Belfast Telegraph

No direct rule as Brokenshire moves to set budget for Northern Ireland

Parties blame each other after deadline to cut a deal passes

By Suzanne Breen

Secretary of State James Brokenshire is set to introduce a budget for Northern Ireland in 11 days after talks between Sinn Fein and the DUP ended in acrimony yesterday.

Both parties blamed each other for the failure to reach a deal, with the DUP saying day-to-day services shouldn't be disrupted over the Irish language, and Sinn Fein pledging not to back down on the issue.

Mr Brokenshire stressed that if he didn't move on a budget, public services would begin running out of money at the end of the month. "No government could simply stand by and allow that to happen," he said.

The Secretary of State insisted that it was not a return to direct rule and that he would withdraw his budget bill if a Stormont Executive was formed before December.

While negotiations between the DUP and Sinn Fein are set to resume, the prospects for a deal didn't look good last night as the two parties attacked each other for the political deadlock.

Talks insiders have said while they are at loggerheads on several issues, an Irish Language Act remains the greatest stumbling block to an agreement.

DUP East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell said: "Day-to-day services should not be disrupted because of the Irish Language. It already receives ample public funding for those who wish to speak it or learn it. It already is catered for in ways that no other minority language is.

"We cannot and will not be party to an agreement that elevates the Irish language not only above all others, but above health, education and other vital public services."

Mr Campbell accused Sinn Fein of preventing key decisions being taken about Northern Ireland's economy and health and education services.

"For Sinn Fein to then complain about the speed of progress, is nothing short of rank hypocrisy," he said. "The DUP stands ready to form an Executive today. Arlene Foster has led our talks team and is rightly frustrated that government is being held back by a narrow political agenda."

But Sinn Fein's Northern Ireland leader Michelle O'Neill countered: "The issue of rights is not going to go away. The DUP and British Government know this. These rights must be satisfactorily dealt with."

Ms O'Neill said her party was disappointed that the talks had "ended in failure" as Sinn Fein "did our best to be flexible and were prepared to stretch ourselves in the common good".

She stated that endless talks without conclusion were "not sustainable", and accused the DUP of blocking an equality agenda on the Irish language, equal marriage, a Bill of Rights, and legacy issues.

"That has been compounded by the Tory-DUP pact. The British Secretary of State is wrong when he says it is only the parties themselves who can reach agreement - he and the Irish Government have obligations," she said.

"I want to state explicitly that, in the context of agreement on delivery of these rights, Sinn Fein will re-enter government. In the absence of these rights, the Executive is not sustainable."

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann claimed Sinn Fein was guilty of an "abuse of power and an abuse of their mandate".

He said: "Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein should be very clear that they will not be allowed to hold this country to ransom or to dictate the agenda. In all of the political posturing we must never forget that people - real people - are on waiting lists, in pain, in distress and in need of our help. People are coming to harm and this cannot be allowed to continue."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood claimed that any budget from Mr Brokenshire would represent direct rule.

"A Tory-DUP government will do nothing for the rights of people in the north. It only strengthens the DUP's intransigence. It will do nothing for the rights of Irish language speakers, the LGBT community or victims," he added.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said he hoped "an honourable compromise" was possible and stressed that London was acting reluctantly and delaying a budget as late as possible. "Both governments share the view that it is regrettable and deeply concerning that, eight months after the last Assembly election, a power-sharing Executive is not in place," he said.

"The issues under discussion - particularly those on language and culture - go to the heart of the divisions in society here in Northern Ireland and so agreement on them was always going to be very challenging."

Mr Brokenshire said the talks couldn't run indefinitely but were still worth continuing.

"There is a huge amount of frustration out there in Northern Ireland, that people here want to see politics get on with the job and serving them," he said. "Yes, this has gone on for an extended period, but I still think it's right we use renewed efforts to find a resolution to see devolved government back on its feet again."

He said he would take advice on the issue of MLAS continuing to receive their £49,000 salaries.

Belfast Telegraph

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