Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland power-sharing talks 'tinkering around edges,' says Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill

Parties look set to continue talks through summer

Michelle O'Neill says real negotiations need to take place in the Northern Ireland talks. Pic BBC
Michelle O'Neill says real negotiations need to take place in the Northern Ireland talks. Pic BBC
Jonathan Bell

By Jonathan Bell

Talks aimed at restoring the Northern Ireland devolved institutions are only "tinkering around the edges," and the real negotiations have not yet started, Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill has said.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said Sinn Fein could not continue to lay down their demands and "expect everyone to accede to them".

The latest process to break the deadlock which has seen Northern Ireland without a local government for two-and-a-half years begun at the beginning of May.

In the past fortnight Secretary of State Karen Bradley has said they have been engaged in a more "intensive" period with the window of opportunity narrowing.

Michelle O'Neill said they had yet to discuss the issues around restoring power sharing but the process had been constructive "to a point".

"But it hasn't actually crunched down on the issues we need to deal with in order to restore the institutions," she told the BBC Sunday Politics programme.

"The only way we are going to resolve issues is by dialogue, is by communicating with each other, about trying to find accommodation for each other. We are certainly up for that.

"We said that whenever the governments called this process that it probably was the most improbable of circumstances in terms of the backdrop - the leadership contest in Britain, the Brexit uncertainty, the fact we were in the midst of elections.

"That said we have applied ourselves, we have been there we have been trying to get a deal but the work to date has been constructive, cross-party wise it has been good.

"But it has been tinkering around the edges. It isn't about a real negotiation and that's what we need to have."

However, it does appear the DUP and Sinn Fein are keen to continue the talks on through the summer.

Ms O'Neill said she wanted the process to continue dismissing as speculation reports they were to break up. And at the beginning of the month in the Commons DUP MP Gavin Robinson suggested a deadline of August for the process in order to get a deal although, this was rebuffed by the secretary of state.

"What we need to do is to get back to the Good Friday Agreement and the principle of mutual respect for each other," continued the MLA.

"It is about accommodation, how we work together, how we live together and how we govern together.

"We are always committed to delivering marriage equality. It goes right to the heart of the current political impasse. Whether it be marriage equality, identity rights, all the things need to be delivered.

"If you are going to have good government and a good society where everybody feels welcome and part of an inclusive society then you need to deliver those things.

"I don't think it is a good position to say we can deliver marriage equality, we have to deliver marriage equality and alongside an Irish language act and an anti-poverty strategy.

"All of the things that have been outstanding."

All the parties have been invited to a reception at Stormont House on Tuesday hosted by the secretary of state which, the invitation states, is an opportunity for "informal cross-party discussions".

Michelle O'Neill said her party would not be attending saying Karen Bradley had played no "fruitful role" in Northern Ireland society.

"At best she has been incompetent," she said.

On her party's recent poor election results she said there were many reasons singling out boundary changes as one and Sinn Fein had been progressing through a period of transition.

She said her leadership with Mary Lou McDonald was working out despite the poor electoral results.

"We fight back, we learn our lessons and we go back out to win our seats," she said

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