Northern Ireland powersharing talks end in acrimony
Arlene Foster: No current prospect of a deal
Powersharing talks in Northern Ireland have ended in acrimony.
Democratic Unionist leader Arlene Foster said there was no current prospect of restoring devolved government after failing to clinch agreement on touchstone issues such as treatment of the Irish language.
Sinn Fein’s Northern Ireland chief Michelle O’Neill said the party had stretched itself and blamed the DUP for collapsing a process aimed at rebuilding coalition government at Stormont after a 13-month suspension.
The republican party wants a standalone piece of legislation to protect speakers – an Irish Language Act – but the DUP has long insisted it would only countenance new laws if they also incorporate other cultures, such as Ulster Scots.
Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley said “substantive progress” had been made but conceded “this phase of talks has reached a conclusion”.
Mrs Foster said attempts to find a stable and sustainable resolution had been unsuccessful.
She said: “We cannot and will not be held to ransom by those who have refused to form an Executive for over 13 months.”
She added there was no “current prospect” of these discussions leading to a ministerial 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.”
Months of endless talks have been held since powersharing collapsed early last year in a row over the DUP’s handling of a botched green energy scheme.
Since then divisions over issues including Irish language rights, same sex marriage and how to deal with the legacy of Northern Ireland’s troubled past have proved insurmountable.
Mrs O’Neill said: “Sinn Fein engaged, we worked in good faith, we stretched ourselves.
“We had reached an accommodation with the leadership of the DUP.
“The DUP failed to close the deal.
“They have now collapsed this process.”
The implosion came despite Monday’s last minute intervention by Prime Minister Theresa May and Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who travelled to Stormont for talks with the parties.
The British Government faces the prospect of having to step in and take previously devolved decisions in Northern Ireland.
Stormont departments have been without ministers for months and decisions need to be made speedily about the next financial year’s public spending budgets.
Proposals for dealing with Northern Ireland’s violent past involving extra money for historic investigations and truth-telling processes have also been delayed by the impasse and may fall to Westminster to implement.
Ms Bradley said “substantive progress” had been made but conceded “this phase of talks has reached a conclusion”.
SoS Karen Bradley - “I believe basis for accommodation still exists”. Statement without fielding media questions. pic.twitter.com/LbpKnFlcMg— David Young (@DavidYoungPA) February 14, 2018
“We now need to consider practical steps.
“In the continued absence of an executive, other challenging decisions will have to be taken by the UK Government and I will update Parliament when the House returns from recess next week.”
The Irish Government, co-guarantor of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement which largely ended violence, has said there can be no return to the direct rule of the period before that landmark accord.
Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said: “As co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement, the UK and Irish governments have an obligation to uphold and protect the letter and spirit of that Agreement.
“We will need to reflect in the coming days on how best to do that.”
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said in a statement: “I very much regret the statement from the DUP. Power sharing and working together are the only way forward for Northern Ireland.
“The Tanaiste and the Secretary of State are in close contact and we will continue to confer with the British Government about the next steps.”