Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein keen to resolve Stormont impasse but DUP hits out at their demands

Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O’Neill
Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O’Neill
DUP leader Arlene Foster
Jonathan Bell

By Jonathan Bell

Talks aimed at restoring the Northern Ireland devolved institutions are only "tinkering around the edges" and should not be suspended over the summer, Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill has said.

But 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 aiming to break the deadlock which has seen Northern Ireland without a devolved government for two-and-a-half years started 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.

Sinn Fein deputy leader Mrs 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. Mrs O'Neill said she wanted the process to continue until a deal is reached, 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 to get a deal through, although this was rebuffed by the Secretary of State.

"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," she said.

"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."

But Mrs Foster hit out at Sinn Fein's approach on Twitter.

The former First Minister tweeted: "SF's idea of negotiation is to lay down demands and expect everyone else to accede to them. This needs to change so we can get agreement which respects all parts of our divided society.

"We continue to engage to find agreement. We need to build a cohesive NI, not one built on separation."

All the parties have been invited to a reception at Stormont House tomorrow hosted by Mrs Bradley which, the invitation states, is an opportunity for "informal cross-party discussions".

Mrs O'Neill said her party would not be attending, saying Mrs Bradley had played no "fruitful role" in Northern Ireland. "At best she has been incompetent," she said.

On her party's recent poor election results, she said her leadership with Mary Lou McDonald was working out despite the poor showing.

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