Belfast Telegraph

No prospect of deal to restore Northern Ireland Executive: Arlene Foster

'Incumbent upon Her Majesty’s Government to set a budget and start making policy decisions'

By Jonathan Bell

Arlene Foster has said there is "no prospect" of a deal in the talks between the DUP and Sinn Fein to restore the Stormont institutions and has called on the Westminster government to take control.

The DUP leader said that while she was committed to restoring a "sustainable" Executive, she could not accept a "one-sided deal".

The Stormont government collapsed last year in a row over a botched green energy scheme. Arlene Foster's call for the UK government to intervene effectively ends the latest talks which have attempted to resurrect government in Northern Ireland over the last 13-months.

She said: "For almost four weeks, we have been engaged in intensive negotiations with Sinn Fein.  We have attempted to find a stable and sustainable basis for restoring devolution.  Those discussions have been unsuccessful.

"Despite our best efforts, serious and significant gaps remain between ourselves and Sinn Fein especially on the issue of the Irish language.

"I have made it consistently clear that unionists will not countenance a stand alone or free standing Irish Language Act.  Sinn Fein’s insistence on a stand alone Irish Language Act means that we have reached an impasse."

Addressing the media at Stormont, MLA Simon Hamilton blamed Sinn Fein for not respecting the unionist identity

"Whether it is our flag, the military or even the very name of this country, they have not shown the respect for the unionist or British identity of the people of this part of the United Kingdom.

In our view, there is no current prospect of these discussions leading to an Executive being formed.

Since January last year both the DUP and Sinn Fein have been engaged in talks aimed at restoring the Executive. Sinn Fein have argued previous arrangements have not been honoured. They have called for legacy inquest funding to be agreed as well as for an Irish language act. The DUP has long insisted it would only countenance new laws if they also incorporate other cultures, such as Ulster Scots.

At the beginning of January, the head of the civil service, David Sterling said a proposal for a budget for the forthcoming financial year needed to be in place for early February in order to allow time for it to pass through the necessary procedures before April.

Arlene Foster added: "As far back as last summer, I outlined my party’s willingness to reach an accommodation on language and cultural issues.  However, I indicated that any such accommodation must be fair, balanced and capable of commanding support on all sides of our community.  At the moment, we do not have a fair and balanced package.

"After the Assembly election, I embarked on an engagement exercise with those who love and cherish the Irish language.  I respect the Irish language and those who speak it but in a shared society this cannot be a one-way street.  Respect for the unionist and British identity has not been reciprocated.

"In our view, there is no current prospect of these discussions leading to an Executive being formed.

"It is now incumbent upon Her Majesty’s Government to set a budget and start making policy decisions about our schools, hospitals and infrastructure.  Important decisions impacting on everyone in Northern Ireland have been sitting in limbo for too long.  I had dearly hoped that we could have restored an Executive and local Ministers could have taken those decisions.  That is not possible at this time.  Northern Ireland is best governed by local Ministers who are accountable to local people.

"Restoring a sustainable and fully functioning devolved government will remain our goal but we will not accept a one-sided deal.

"Any agreement to restore the Executive must be on a sensible basis. We cannot and will not be held to ransom by those who have refused to form an Executive for over thirteen months."

On Monday the Prime Minister Theresa May and Taoiseach Leo Varadakar travelled to Stormont to encourage the region's parties to finally end the deadlock that has left Northern Ireland without a functioning government since last January.

Mrs May urged them to make "one final push" to strike a deal to salvage powersharing.

Afterwards, Mrs Foster said while the leaders were welcome, their presence proved a "bit of a distraction" as it interrupted negotiations. The DUP leader said the governments had been told in advance of their trip that "the deal wasn't done".

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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