Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein push ahead election plans as DUP fails to halt poll

By Suzanne Breen

Sinn Fein is now on an election footing with the party organising an Assembly selection convention in Fermanagh and South Tyrone for Sunday.

Meanwhile, the DUP made an 11th hour attempt to postpone an election, by asking the Alliance Party to join forces with it to lobby the Government not to hold an election until lengthy political negotiations have taken place. But Alliance rejected the DUP's request and is preparing for a speedy election.

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A Stormont source said: "The DUP appear to be scared of facing the electorate.

"They asked Alliance to join with them in appealing to Secretary of State, James Brokenshire, to avert an election until after extensive talks. Their request was refused."

Sources said that in his talks with the local parties yesterday, Mr Brokenshire indicated that an election would be held in February with perhaps only a three or four week campaign beforehand.

The Impartial Reporter today reported that Sinn Fein had contacted its members in Fermanagh and South Tyrone to inform them that it intends to "select our candidates for the pending Assembly election".

Last night, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said that he had spoken to Gerry Adams and Arlene Foster, and that both parties were willing to consider talks.

Mr Kenny told RTE that the two parties could hold a meeting to discuss the crisis that has brought Northern Ireland to the brink of an election.

He said that he had also spoken to former Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, who told him that he would attend any such meeting.

Mr Kenny said that the political situation was grave but that if people were talking anything was possible and that a bilateral meeting would be a hugely important step.

Mr Adams last night repeated his party's insistence that it wouldn't be nominating a Deputy First Minister before Monday.

Mr Brokenshire has warned that, without a replacement for Mr McGuinness, he will call an election within four days.

Mr Adams said: "In the last few weeks, huge damage has been done to the integrity of the North's political institutions by the behaviour and actions of the DUP. In our view, it is time for the people to have their say.

"Of course, Sinn Fein as a party is always open to discussions.

"We are the party of dialogue and we are prepared to talk to the DUP.

"However, following a series of meetings with the Irish and British governments, we don't yet see any basis for credible negotiations this side of an election."

Writing in today's Belfast Telegraph, Mr McGuinness said that an election must be held.

"This is not an orange and green issue, despite attempts by some to paint it as such," he writes.

"The arrogance of Arlene Foster with regard to the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme was an insult not only to nationalists but unionists who are appalled by the approach of the DUP."

Earlier, there were apparently contradictory comments from Sinn Fein politicians on the possibility of talks with the DUP before an election.

Health Minister Michelle O'Neill had said: "We are not interested in trying to get into negotiations now - what we need is fundamental change.

"We believe the public need to have their say."

Around the same time, speaking in Dublin, Mr Adams said: "We are always open for talks and we are always open to meet.

"Of course we are."

Sinn Fein denied sending mixed messages and insisted its position was clear - that an election needed to happen regardless, but the party wouldn't rule out meetings with others in the interim.

SDLP MLA Claire Hanna said: "Like its stance on an RHI inquiry, Sinn Fein's position on talks is as clear as mud.

"An election now seems inevitable but an almighty governance mess has been left behind by the DUP and Sinn Fein.

"People are being asked to vote in a vacuum.

"Northern Ireland needed stability but these two parties seem capable of only processing and negotiations."

Alliance leader Naomi Long said: "Sinn Fein is clearly intent on an election.

"The talks are going nowhere and energies would now be best used to deal with budget and financial issues, and to ensure that ordinary people here don't pay the price for the DUP's and Sinn Fein's mess."

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt, said: "The only thing that has been consistent about the last 10 years is the certainty that the DUP and Sinn Fein cannot work together."

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