Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein and DUP clash over bid to rekindle stalled Northern Ireland talks

McDonald and Foster in war of words as Taoiseach's intervention riles DUP

By Suzanne Breen

A war of words has erupted between Sinn Fein and the DUP over a proposed new round of talks to restore power-sharing.

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald yesterday accused the DUP of having a "destructive and reckless agenda" after Arlene Foster said her party's opposition to a stand-alone Irish Language Act was "non-negotiable".

We have been failed by our political class

Our politicians have made a total horlicks of things and eejits out of us... this can't go on

This embarrassing mess drags on ... and there's no end in sight 

Earlier, the DUP leader said she wasn't aware of a proposal to hold fresh talks in the autumn to restore devolution.

The initiative was revealed by the Taoiseach, whom Mrs Foster accused of interfering in Northern Ireland affairs.

Speaking in Londonderry yesterday, the Sinn Fein president described the DUP leader's stance on an Irish Language Act as "disappointing".

Ms McDonald said: "Arlene Foster and all others need to understand that Gaeilgeoiri are not going anywhere, that Gaeilgeoiri, just like gay citizens, just like every citizen, have their rights and that in a modern, functioning democratic society, you deliver on people's rights.

"It's hugely disappointing that Arlene Foster and the DUP don't seem to have moved on one inch since last February. The rhetoric of 'no, nay, never' gets no one anywhere.

"This is now about progress, about recognising people's entitlements. These are issues that are not orange and green, these are people issues, rights issues."

The Sinn Fein president said she wanted to talk to the British and Irish Governments to ascertain what shape future talks would take. "We will enter any process in good faith, but we have to be sure that it has the prospect of delivery," she said.

"We are a party of engagement. I have said all along that despite the stance that the DUP and their very destructive and reckless agenda, there is no doubt that early or late, all of this brings us right back around the table talking to each other again. There is no other way forward."

On Tuesday Leo Varadkar said: "We would intend, in the autumn some time, trying again to get the parties in Northern Ireland together.

"The absence of any clarity around Brexit makes that very difficult, but if we can have that in October, I think there is an opportunity, certainly before the end of the year, to get the Assembly and Executive up and running."

Mrs Foster yesterday said she wasn't aware of any such proposal and had not been informed of any by London. "We haven't heard from our own Government in relation to this, all we've had is comments from the Irish Republic's Government," she told BBC Radio Ulster.

"That does cause me concern because in the last round of talks, the Irish Government tried to interfere in strand one issues (issues related to Northern Ireland's internal government).

"We had to push back a number of times and say to them that, in relation to the internal matters of Northern Ireland, those are matters for the UK Government and the parties in Northern Ireland. As I understand it, there isn't a proposal at the moment, there are just comments made by the Irish Government."

Mrs Foster accused Sinn Fein of ducking its political responsibilities.

"Instead of attempting to work for any agreement locally, Sinn Fein chose to walk away and boycott the Assembly, Executive and House of Commons. Forums that could give them some influence," she said.

"On Brexit and on devolution, is it easier for Sinn Fein to reduce themselves to little more than lobbyists rather than engage in the real business of politics and take tough decisions on behalf of everyone?"

In response to Mr Varadkar's comments on new talks, a UK Government spokesperson said its top priority was "the restoration of devolved government in Northern Ireland".

London would work with local parties and Dublin "within the three-stranded approach" to remove the barriers to restoring the Executive and a fully-functioning Assembly.

Belfast Telegraph

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