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Direct rule looming unless Sinn Fein alters stance, DUP warns

By Noel McAdam

The DUP has said a drift towards direct rule appears inevitable unless Sinn Fein changes its attitude.

After a barrage of traditional Easter republican messages, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson yesterday concluded we were heading towards Westminster taking up the reins.

With talks to restore devolution suspended this week, he accused Sinn Fein of appearing focused on a negative outcome to the negotiations.

Two deadlines have come and gone and Secretary of State James Brokenshire has set the latest cut-off point for the talks as early May.

In a series of speeches over the weekend, Sinn Fein reiterated that the collapse of the talks must mean another Assembly election - the third inside a year.

But Mr Donaldson said Sinn Fein was "deluding themselves" and failing to realise it was not the only party involved in discussions.

"They just haven't entered into negotiation mode in the meetings," the MP claimed. "They turn up, discuss and leave, but there are no negotiations.

"So since Sinn Fein aren't negotiating, it would be very difficult to compromise on anything. They are constantly making public statements and talking about negative outcomes.

"We are in the talks, we are negotiating, we are putting forward our positions, we are talking to Sinn Fein, we are talking to the other political parties. But as things stand at the moment, I have to be honest with you, I think we are heading towards direct rule."

As for the prospect of another election, Mr Donaldson added: "The reality is an election won't resolve any of the issues. They can only be resolved through negotiation, and if Sinn Fein aren't prepared to negotiate then most people will conclude: 'what is the point in having another election?' I think the more likely outcome is direct rule, but clearly that's a decision for the Government."

Mr Donaldson said his party remained prepared to go into an Executive tomorrow, which he argued was what people in the March 2 election voted for.

He added: "We have no pre-conditions, we are happy to form a government and work our way through the issues that confront Northern Ireland."

In an Easter Sunday speech, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said: "If what we have seen from the DUP in recent times continues that will only guarantee that there will be no DUP First Minister and no return to the status quo at Stormont."

Mr Adams, who has been heading up his party's team during the recent meetings, urged DUP leader Arlene Foster and new Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann to use the Easter period to reflect.

He added: "The current talks process has paused. But let me be very clear: it is the British Government's intransigence on legacy issues, and the DUP's rejection of the principles of equality, parity of esteem and of rights, that have made it more difficult to reach a deal.

"Sinn Fein wants a deal. But if there is no deal then there has to be an election.

"The role and responsibility of the Irish Government must be to assert that an election is the only legal course open to the British Government if the current talks fail to elect an Executive.

"In this context, the progressive parties in the Assembly should not fear an election. It will be an opportunity to strengthen those parties that are for a Bill of Rights, who want a Civic Forum, who believe in marriage equality, and who support an Irish Language Act… the rights of victims of the conflict. They cannot be left out or left behind.

"None of these rights threaten anyone. Except for the bigots and naysayers and begrudgers."

And speaking in Dublin, Sinn Fein Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill said: "Sinn Fein are only interested in participating in the power-sharing institutions if they deliver for all of our citizens and operate on the basis of equality and respect."

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