Belfast Telegraph

First 'intensive' phase of Northern Ireland power-sharing talks break up after 25 minutes

Sinn Fein challenge governments to live up to their words

Gareth Cross

By Gareth Cross

Sinn Fein's Northern Ireland leader Michelle O'Neill has called on the UK and Irish governments to live up to recent statements after Monday's power-sharing talks lasted just 25 minutes.

The MLA however, did say the opportunity was available for a resolution to be found.

"All parties arrived today for intensive talks between ourselves and the two governments but what we had was a 25-minute meeting which was not the intensification of negotiations the two governments have spoken of," she said.

Last week Secretary of State Karen Bradley and Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney recommended talks "intensify" in an attempt to reach an agreement before the end of June.

Despite Monday's shortened meeting, Mid Ulster MLA O'Neill said restoring the Executive and Assembly was still possible.

"We have an opportunity here and we should take it," the Sinn Fein said.

"What we need to see now is a meaningful and intensive engagement that actually delivers an Executive and Assembly for everyone."

We know from bitter experience what the summer can bring in Northern Ireland. Colum Eastwood

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said he was up for "radical change" but a deal needed to be done this month.

He said the working groups had done what they could do and they would see more involvement from party leaders in real work.

UUP leader Robin Swan
UUP leader Robin Swan

"These are going to be meetings where people will properly have to make some calls about the compromises that are required," the Foyle MLA said.

"This will not get done if it goes beyond the end of this month. We can do it a lot sooner than that if people are up for it but it needs to happen this month or I don't think it will happen.

"We know from bitter experience what the summer can bring in Northern Ireland, we know the political difficulties that we are going to face in September and October, now is the time to do it, we have no more excuses."

UUP leader Robin Swann suggested the intensive talks could begin on Wednesday.

He said the result of the Renewable Heat Incentive inquiry into the botched green energy scheme will also be relevant to the talks.

"If this period does not get into the nitty-gritty of what needs to be solved I think there will be a missed opportunity," the North Antrim MLA said.

"We have a short window here to actually solve the problems which are preventing this place from being restored."

The UUP leader called for movement on transparency in governance.

"That all flows out from the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) report from the inquiry and the recommendations that may come from that as to how this place actually becomes a functioning, working Executive and Assembly," Mr Swann said. 

Retired judge Sir Patrick Coghlin is due to deliver a report on how the botched green energy scheme was implemented and will make recommendations for future governance.

"Unless it actually reaches what Sir Patrick Coghlin says needs to be done, if we set a bar that is actually lower than he sets, we are failing the accountability and transparency [standards] of what this place actually needs for full restoration of a functioning Executive and Assembly," the UUP leader said.

Only hope for the Stormont institutions is root and branch change. Jim Allister

Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister said the talks were a "fraudulent con" in pretending that it was possible to reinvigorate the Stormont system.

"A system that can never and will never work, for one simple reason, the precondition to it working is having at its heart a party that does not want Northern Ireland to work, namely Sinn Fein," Mr Allister said.

"It is a fraud on the long-suffering people of Northern Ireland to pretend that they can stick it back together again.

"The only hope for the Stormont institutions is root and branch change which creates a coalition of the willing, not the compulsory coalition that gives the veto so insistently exercised by SF over the last two-and-a-half years."

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