Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein's wish-list 'proof it is gearing up for direct rule'

By Noel McAdam

The prospect of an early return of the Executive has further dimmed as Sinn Fein appears to have shifted its focus to direct negotiations with London.

A senior party figure has signalled its intention to negotiate with the British Government on key issues while Stormont remains mothballed in the aftermath of the Assembly election.

Pat Sheehan insisted republicans would not go back into an Executive until they had secured an Irish Language Act, a Bill of Rights and agreement on dealing with the legacy of the past.

His demands came after DUP leader Arlene Foster warned London could award concessions to Sinn Fein during negotiations to restore the Executive.

Yesterday the DUP said it was now "apparent" Sinn Fein's real motivation in forcing the election was to advance its own "narrow agenda".

With less than a week to polling day, Mr Sheehan said all previous agreements involving the UK Government would have to be implemented.

Speaking at an event for young voters, he said: "There were three issues that have been agreed previously.

"So you had the Irish Language Act, there was a thing called the Bill of Rights, and an agreement with regard to dealing with people killed during the conflict.

"We need to see those agreements implemented."

Asked by Radio Ulster's Stephen Nolan if that amounted to a promise that it would not go into the Executive, Mr Sheehan replied: "Yes - unless the outstanding agreements are implemented."

DUP candidate Gordon Lyons said: "It is clear for anyone to see that Sinn Fein have used the RHI scheme as an excuse for this election. The real motivation has always been to advance their own narrow agenda through the creation of a political crisis. Only a week ago Conor Murphy said there was no reason that devolution couldn't be restored within three weeks, but now, days before the election, Pat Sheehan has set out a list of new preconditions.

"It may have been no mistake that this message was delivered by the man who replaced Gerry Adams in the Assembly."

Party colleague Peter Weir said he believed Sinn Fein now wanted the return of direct rule.

"Sinn Fein seems to be shifting from Brits out to Brits in," he said. "We want to see devolved government established as soon as possible, immediately after the election, and people blocking that appear to be Sinn Fein. When a party comes to negotiations with a long list of preconditions, I think that is where the blockage is.

"It contrasts strongly with Conor Murphy saying there could be a government established within weeks, and what we are seeing here is Sinn Fein upping the ante with what would be a lengthy republican wish-list. This does beg the question as to if Sinn Fein are really interested in devolution or if they want direct rule."

Meanwhile, Ulster Unionist candidate Philip Smith claimed the DUP had deliberately taken the Department of the Economy over the Department of Finance as its first choice following last May's election for party political reasons.

"The ramifications of putting the fiscally illiterate Sinn Fein in charge of public finances have now become clear for all to see, following their failure to even present a budget from March 31, which will have a destabilising impact on all the public services we rely upon," he claimed.

"By holding on to the Economy portfolio, the DUP have effectively been in charge of the release and flow of key information relating to the RHI debacle.

"Had another party held the ministry they possibly would have been more willing to shine a light on Arlene Foster's involvement in the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme, as well as being able to expose the full sinister involvement of DUP special advisers.

"The DUP, through their stonewalling and controlled release of information, have even ensured that the findings of the upcoming RHI public inquiry will now not be known before people go to the polls next week."

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