Belfast Telegraph

Stormont talks welcomed by Northern Ireland parties - but red lines remain

Stormont has been without a government for more than two years
Stormont has been without a government for more than two years

Northern Ireland's political parties have reacted positively to the announcement of talks aimed at restoring Stormont, however there have been signs that red lines still remain.

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald insisted the party's concerns over an Irish Language Act, same-sex marriage and legacy issues have not changed.

"Nobody could countenance the continued denial of these basic rights. People want these issues resolved," she said.

"So these talks will be a test of whether the British government and the DUP are finally willing to resolve the issues of equality, rights and integrity in government which caused the collapse of the power-sharing institutions two years ago.

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Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald. Credit: John Stillwell/PA

"I sincerely hope that we now see a change in approach and that this process delivers on marriage equality, and rights for women, Irish speakers and victims."

DUP leader Arlene Foster insisted that talks should be focused on delivering a "fair and balanced deal" acceptable to both unionists and nationalists.

"Anyone who thinks agreement can be reached through a one-sided wish-list being implemented is not routed in reality," she added.

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Arlene Foster

"As I said in my conference speech last year, I will encourage the full involvement of all parties capable of holding Ministerial Office, and want their contribution considered and acted upon, on its merits.

"We need a sustainable Assembly and that is best delivered through working together with the other parties where we respect each other’s policies and mandates.”

The day following the commencement of all-party talks, a meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council will be held.

LIVE: Joint British and Irish Governmental statement on Stormont talks with Secretary of State Karen Bradley and Tanaiste Simon Coveney

Posted by Belfast Telegraph on Friday, April 26, 2019

It has also been announced that a meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference will take place over the same period, focusing on east-west relations, security cooperation and political stability in Northern Ireland.

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said progress will only be possible if there is "genuine engagement" from Sinn Fein and the DUP.

"The UK Government cannot continue to appease the politics of intransigence. They cannot continue to allow Sinn Fein to set the terms for talks.

"People want progress and to see politics in Northern Ireland offer a positive way forward, but have been repeatedly let down by the dysfunctionality, scandals and disrespect of the last Stormont Executive.

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Robin Swann

"We must stick to the three stranded approach of the Belfast Agreement. That has worked in the past and it can work in the future."

Simon Coveney said while he believed there was a need for agreement "well in advance" of mid-July, a deadline for the completion of talks "would not be helpful".

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, however, said a process with no fixed deadline will "simply sink back to the retrenchment of previous talks".

"We have already seen the DUP and Sinn Féin slip back into comfortable red lines that look great on placards but deliver nothing for people desperately in need," he added.

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SDLP leader Colum Eastwood

"Both of those parties need to think again about their approach that’s more about seeking a pound of flesh than reaching agreement.

"We have reached a turning point. The tragic events of the last week demand a response from political leaders. That response cannot be limited to strong statements one day and a retreat to the trenches the next. People are demanding a return to partnership."

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Naomi Long

In a tweet, Alliance leader Naomi Long said her party are ready to: "Reengage in talks: no delays or preconditions. Resolve the issues: not kick the can down the road.

"Reform the structures: so the Assembly can deliver, and restore the Assembly: to deal with health, education, infrastructure, economy and the environment."

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