Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein must refocus on wider issues to restore powersharing, says DUP MP

The Democratic Unionists have urged Sinn Fein to rethink its approach to powersharing restoration talks as the process pauses over the Easter break.

DUP MP Gregory Campbell told republicans they need to look beyond their own wish list and realise other people also have political issues they want to address.

"Sinn Fein's closed-mind approach has led to Stormont being closed, it needs to change," he said.

Negotiations to save devolution remain log-jammed, with two deadlines to form a new ruling executive falling by the wayside.

The region has been without a devolved government for six weeks, with a senior civil servant currently in charge of public service spending.

The UK Government has warned Stormont's rowing politicians they will face a snap election or a form of direct rule if they cannot restore powersharing by early May.

Sinn Fein demands for legislative protections for Irish speakers, an end to the region's ban on gay marriage, and the implementation of a Northern Ireland-specific bill of rights are among the issues of dispute.

The republican party has accused the DUP of preventing the formation of a "rights-based" government.

The DUP hinted at a shift in approach to the Irish language on Wednesday when party leader Arlene Foster, who previously insisted she would never support an Irish Language Act, pledged to meet Gaelic speakers to hear their concerns.

Sinn Fein welcomed her comments as a "positive step".

Devolution first crashed in January when Sinn Fein pulled the plug on the last executive over a row about a botched green energy scheme. A snap election was held at the start of March but the DUP and Sinn Fein have been unable to agree a basis for establishing a new executive.

East Londonderry MP Mr Campbell said Ulster Scots speakers also wanted protections and highlighted a need to introduce a military covenant in Northern Ireland - a series of policies that define the state's obligations to its armed services.

"The current impasse was created when Sinn Fein walked out of Stormont," he said.

"Critical public services suffer whilst the deadlock is maintained through their refusal to re-establish the executive. The DUP is prepared to establish the executive and work through the range of problems people from across Northern Ireland face."

He added: "The Easter break offers them (Sinn Fein) the opportunity to refocus on issues which they have to get their collective heads around. That can be of benefit but only if they use the opportunity and come back to begin looking at the issues which people beyond Sinn Fein's closed circle want to get resolved."

On the prospect of direct rule, Mr Campbell said: "Sinn Fein are going to have to make a choice between working with people they don't like in London or those of us they would prefer weren't here in Northern Ireland."

Sinn Fein negotiator Conor Murphy reiterated his party's stance that any new executive could only be formed if there was progress on the rights issues.

Addressing business leaders at Stormont, the Newry and Armagh Assembly member said: "The surest route to political stability is an executive that respects diversity, treats all of its citizens equally, and conducts itself with integrity.

"This is what Sinn Fein are working for in the political talks.

"An executive that disrespects the Irish identity, denies equal marriage and is constantly undermined by financial scandals will not provide stable or effective government.

"We want to see good government based on the principles of equality, integrity and respect."

As the two main parties, an agreement between the DUP and Sinn Fein is a prerequisite for a new administration to be formed.

The talks also involve the Ulster Unionists, SDLP, Alliance Party and the UK and Irish governments.

Away from the present-day rights-based issues, Sinn Fein is also at odds with the UK Government on stalled mechanisms to deal with the legacy of the Troubles.

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