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SF's talks push a cynical ploy, say unionists

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Sinn Fein Stormont chief Michelle O’Neill

Sinn Fein Stormont chief Michelle O’Neill

Sinn Fein Stormont chief Michelle O’Neill

Unionists have poured scorn on Sinn Fein's attempts to start talks next week to restore power-sharing at Stormont.

Senior unionist sources dismissed the party's call for negotiations to begin speedily as a "stunt to protect Sinn Fein from criticism" that its stance was preventing key decisions being taken by local politicians on health, education and the economy.

A Government spokeswoman last night said that Secretary of State James Brokenshire would meet the Northern Ireland party leaders this week and that London remained committed to restoring devolution.

But Stormont insiders are pessimistic that the talks can progress with Sinn Fein and the DUP still at loggerheads over an Irish Language Act, gay marriage and other issues.

Sinn Fein Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill yesterday revealed that she had written to the British and Irish Governments and local party leaders asking for the talks to resume on August 28.

"With limited engagement since the talks concluded on July 4, I am keen to formally re-engage at the earliest opportunity in order to re-establish an Executive and power-sharing institutions on a proper and sustainable footing," she said.

"Moreover, I do not believe there is much public appetite, or need, for another drawn-out phase of talks.

"In this context, and with an eagerness to resolve outstanding issues, I am also formally proposing that this round of talks be focused and time-limited."

Former DUP minister Simon Hamilton said: "Sinn Fein wants talks, Northern Ireland needs government.

"The DUP was ready to form an Executive five months ago. Sinn Fein has been blocking key decisions on health, education and infrastructure.

"Let's get an Executive formed and deal with negotiations in parallel. Government in Northern Ireland can't be held to ransom for a political wish-list."

UUP leader Robin Swann was also critical of Sinn Fein.

"While they might want to appear like they are driving this process forward, if Sinn Fein approach this set of talks with their red lines in place it is difficult to see how progress can be made," he said.

Mr Swann disclosed that his party had been in contact recently with the Northern Ireland Office regarding the talks' resumption and had stressed its willingness to make progress.

"In the time since the last process was parked, we have continued to engage with civic society," he said.

"It is clear from these meetings that the voluntary and community sector, business, trade unions, student unions, health charities and many more, all share our frustration at the lack of progress to date."

A Government spokeswoman said Mr Brokenshire had consistently called for local politicians to resume talks.

"The UK Government has remained in contact with the parties over the summer with the aim of restoring devolution," she said.

"It will continue to lead efforts to ensure the delivery of an effective power-sharing devolved government, working for all the people of Northern Ireland."

The spokeswoman said that in meetings with the parties, Mr Brokenshire would stress that "the priority must be to ensure that politicians locally are working together to strengthen the economy, to deal with the challenges and opportunities of EU exit, and build a stronger, shared society based on respect for everyone".

Belfast Telegraph