Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein urges governments to 'inject momentum into Stormont talks'

Irish foreign minister predicts 'a very late night' in last ditch negotiations

Sinn Fein's John O'Dowd has said the DUP has not moved to address the issues which brought down the power-sharing institutions, calling on the UK and Irish governments to inject "leadership and energy" into the Stormont talks.

Mr O'Dowd made the comment less than 24 hours before the deadline to restore the Northern Ireland Executive expires.

The parties have until 4pm on Thursday to nominate ministers or face the prospect of some version of direct rule from Westminster or yet another assembly election.

While the Northern Ireland Assembly is due to sit at 12 noon, there is widespread speculation that the deadline will not be met. None of the participants are indicating that any real progress has been made so far.

On Wednesday evening, Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney sent out a Tweet predicting a "very late night" in the attempt to break the impasse.

He wrote: "Stormont talks continuing - efforts intensified to find agreement on outstanding issues before tomorrow's deadline. Expect very late night."

The DUP and Sinn Fein remain at loggerheads over introducing an Irish Language Act.

Emerging from the talks venue at Stormont Castle in Belfast on Wednesday evening, Mr O'Dowd said: "The DUP have not moved to resolve the issues that brought down these institutions in January - rights, equality and respect.

"These need to be resolved, and implemented in legislation," he added, putting the onus firmly on the DUP and the two governments to inject "energy and leadership" into the talks.

Mr O'Dowd questioned the merit of extending the deadline to facilitate further discussions.

He said: "I'm not convinced that timescale is the problem. I think it boils down to a willingness, particularly by the DUP and the two governments, to resolve the outstanding issues."

Mr O'Dowd also said that there was no need for compromise. "These are implementation talks. These are talks about implementing outstanding agreements. No one has to compromise. The compromises took place years ago. Now we have to get to the implementation stage."

Also speaking to reporters at Stormont, the DUP's Edwin Poots acknowledged that the Irish language act is "a touchstone" for Sinn Fein.

He added, however, that health and education are "a priority" for the DUP.

"We're having significant discussions and we're finding out what people's bottom lines are," he said. "There's work for every party to do."

The DUP, he added, is "ready to establish government" and "appoint ministers" on Thursday. "If there are issues outstanding that still need to be worked on, we're happy to do that and continue with the negotiations in a fair and reasonable manner".

Earlier UUP leader Robin Swann said the party would not support an Irish language act.

Mr Swann also told reporters that neither the DUP non Sinn Fein attending the main roundtable meeting on Wednesday.

"We were told that was because because they were still in intensive negotiations," he said.

He stated that the UUP "will not be taken for granted in these talks or in the formation of an executive" and noted that the party has a number of its own issues it wants agreement on as part of the talks, such as the establishment of an historical investigations unit, pensions and supports for survivors and victims of historical abuse.

When asked about whether the UUP would support an Irish language act, he said the party wouldn't. "We don't see the appointment of a commissioner with the same powers as a high court judge as something that's acceptable.

"Nor do we see a 10% recruitment cap on all civil servants being fluent Irish speakers as being something that's necessary in Northern Ireland at this time when we're actually going through a voluntary redundancy scheme.

"If the DUP can come to an agreement over an Irish language act with Sinn Fein, that's between the DUP and Sinn Fein," Mr Swann said. "The Irish language act isn't the final point to be solved here."

Meanwhile Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire said failure to strike a powersharing deal would have "profound and serious" implications.

He told MPs at Westminster: "Our focus is on seeing that an Executive is restored and I have been clear on not wanting to pre-empt what may happen should that not be the case.

"Obviously there would be profound and serious implications in that context."

 

He said he would work with all parties to see that the issues were considered carefully.

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