Sinn Fein ready to do business on powersharing deal, leader says
A new talks initiative will start on May 7.
Sinn Fein’s leader has said she is ready to do business on a Stormont powersharing deal, warning that time has run out on the political stalemate.
Mary Lou McDonald said while her party was ready to engage “energetically and positively” to find a breakthrough, if negotiations fail then it would be incumbent on the UK and Irish governments to step-in to fill the political vacuum.
After a meeting with her party’s negotiating team at Parliament Buildings in Belfast, Mrs McDonald said: “The current stalemate cannot continue, the current position is simply not sustainable.”
A new talks initiative will start on May 7.
Efforts to resolve the political impasse have been injected with fresh impetus following the murder of journalist Lyra McKee, 29, by dissident republicans in Londonderry earlier this month.
The last DUP/Sinn Fein-led powersharing coalition imploded in January 2017 amid a row about a botched renewable energy scheme.
The rift between the erstwhile partners-in-government subsequently widen to take in disputes over the Irish language, same sex marriage and the legacy of the Troubles.
On Monday, Mrs McDonald said: “We will enter these talks in good heart, in good faith, we will make every effort to arrive at a conclusion but, in the event that we cannot conclude on what are equality issues for citizens, then be very, very clear that the two government as co-guarantors and signatories of the Good Friday Agreement will have to, at that stage, intervene.
“Because time has run out on equality, time has run out on this stalemate, it’s not good enough. It’s not good enough for any of us. We are very clear on that.”
DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said his party would “not be found wanting” in any talks process.
He said the party’s preference remained that Stormont be reinstated immediately, with a talks process happening in parallel – a choreography Sinn Fein has rejected.
“Boycotting devolution has hurt the people of Northern Ireland,” he said.
“Decisions need to be taken on key reforms in our hospitals and schools. Leadership is needed right across our public services. The only way for this to happen is to have ministers back at their desks working on the issues which matter to everyone.”
The last ill-fated talks process broke down last February in acrimony amid claim and counter claim on what had actually been agreed.
Sinn Fein said DUP leader Arlene Foster had agreed a draft deal to re-enter devolved government – a claim Mrs Foster emphatically denied.
Leaked copies of papers exchanged between the parties indicated discussions included a three-stranded legislative approach to deal with the key logjam over Irish language protections.
Last month, Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill said her party would not “negotiate down” from the February 2018 position.
On Monday, Mrs McDonald was asked would she countenance a deal that looked significantly different to that disputed text.
She replied by saying any agreement had to be “anchored in the values of equality and respect”.
“This is not about one-upmanship or one-upwomanship – this is about decency, this is about doing the right thing,” the republican leader added.
“This is about acknowledging our people, all of them, and that is the only sustainable basis for good government.”
The Sinn Fein leader said the talks needed to be substantive.
“We have to avoid at all costs the danger of simply talking for talks’ sake,” she said.
“We don’t need box-ticking exercises. We don’t need anything that is superficial or a matter of spin.”
She added: “We are ready to do the business, we are ready for positivity, we are ready for dialogue and engagement, and, above all, we are now ready for solutions, because stalemate is not an option into the future.”
Mrs McDonald said the talks represented a “big opportunity” to resolve the outstanding issues at the heart of the logjam.
“We have an opportunity to establish real, genuine powersharing institutions that serve every one of our citizens,” she added.
“We have the opportunity to move to a new dispensation where no section of our community and no citizen is left behind.
“We hope that others – the two governments and all the political parties – will seize this opportunity.”
Mr Dodds highlighted the £1 billion in investment delivered to Northern Ireland through the DUP’s confidence and supply Westminster deal with the Conservative Party.
But he said much more could have been achieved in the past two years if the executive had been running.
“The DUP will not be found wanting in any talks process but our preference would have been to have talks in parallel with the restoration of a devolved government,” he said.
“The previous executive had a cross-party agreement for reforming our hospitals, yet it is sitting on the shelf gathering dust. The Assembly and executive should be restored immediately so work on the issues which matter to everyone can be progressed alongside talks to resolve the areas where there is contention.
“Whilst Sinn Fein focus on narrow sectional interests, the DUP has been able to deliver £1 billion more for schools, hospitals and roads yet we could have achieved so much more if we had a functioning executive.
“Having a fully restored Assembly and our influence in London would enable more delivery for everyone in Northern Ireland.”