Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein and DUP clash over direct rule

Parties at odds over how political stalemate should be handled amid latest powersharing crisis.

Sinn Fein has warned that direct rule is not an option for Northern Ireland as Democratic Unionists called on the UK Government to start setting budgets for schools and hospitals.

As republicans sat down for talks with the Irish government on the Stormont powersharing crisis, DUP leader Arlene Foster was calling on Downing Street to start taking big spending decisions.

“Frontline staff have been living hand to mouth for too long. The Northern Ireland people deserve better,” Ms Foster said.

“I am not prepared to allow this to continue. Decisions need to be taken.”

Stormont powersharing talks

The DUP leader made her calls for decisions to be made on infrastructure, education and healthcare as Sinn Fein leader and deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill walked into Government Buildings in Dublin.

Ahead of the meeting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tanaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney, Ms McDonald called for decisive action from both Dublin and London.

“We don’t accept any call for a cooling off period, in fact we’re saying very clearly that there cannot be vacuum, we need action and we need the two governments to be decisive at this point,” she said.

“Direct rule is not acceptable. Direct rule is not on the table.

“We have been clear – nationalism right across the country is clear on that point, the Government in Dublin is clear on that point and I have to say that we have previous words from both governments which made very clear that direct rule is not the answer when the institutions falter.”

Sinn Fein are pressing for the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference to be convened in the absence of powersharing.

The Sinn Fein leadership and Ms Foster are expected to hold separate talks later this week with Prime Minister Theresa May.

The DUP, whose 10 MPs are propping up the Conservatives at Westminster, effectively ended talks aimed at bringing the 13-month political impasse in Northern Ireland to a close last Wednesday when Ms Foster said she did not believe it would be possible to form an Executive.

The move came two days after the PM visited Stormont.

It surprised many who had believed a deal had been close on contentious issues such as Irish language, marriage equality and the legacy of the past.

In the midst of the latest Stormont crisis, Downing Street has insisted that the UK Government is “fully committed” to the Good Friday Agreement.

Direct rule is not acceptable. Direct rule is not on the table Mary Lou McDonald

It is working towards getting the devolved administration at Stormont up and running again, Mrs May’s official spokesman confirmed.

Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley is due to update Parliament on the Stormont impasse on Tuesday.

Mrs May’s spokesman said: “It is disappointing that agreement has not yet been reached between the parties, but we do still believe that the basis for an accommodation exists.”

Ms Foster has insisted that she is committed to devolved government in Northern Ireland but also warned that it will not be at any price.

“I stand ready to form one tomorrow without any pre-conditions,” Ms Foster said.

“Sinn Fein has been refusing to form a government for over 400 days until they have their own party political matters addressed.”

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