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Bad blood and mistrust between parties - Sinn Fein need to work with unionists rather than insult victims of terrorism, says DUP's Dodds

MP 'confident' Westminster will set budget in coming weeks

By Jonathan Bell

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds has said there is "bad blood and mistrust" between his party and Sinn Fein after the talks break down and the republican party needed to "get back to working with unionists rather than insulting victims of terrorism".

The party's leader at Westminster - where the DUP holds considerable sway with the governing Conservative party after striking a confidence and supply deal with Prime Minister Theresa May - also said he was "confident" parliament would set a budget and decide how the £1bn package agreed as part of the deal would be spent in the coming weeks.

Asked how quickly talks with Sinn Fein could resume on restoring a government for Northern Ireland, he said it was "difficult" to say.

Speaking on Peston on Sunday on ITV, Mr Dodds said Sinn Fein had "weaponised" the Irish language causing "deep difficulty with many unionists".

He said the draft text which had been leaked "made it clear there was no agreement" for an Irish language act.

"There has been £190million spent in the last five years on promoting and educating people in the Irish language and all of that there is absolutely no difficulty with," he said.

"What we can not accept, is that it is the Sinn Fein demand that it should be imposed on those that don't want it, that there should be all sorts of regulations and all the rest of it and people have recoiled from that."

He added: "We are not against a common sense approach, a balanced approach and a recognition and respect for all languages."

Asked how quickly talks would resume with Sinn Fein Mr Dodds said it was difficult to say but his party was committed to restoring power-sharing and prepared to restore government with "no pre-conditions".

Referencing former Sinn Fein MP Barry McElduff's resignation over his Kingsmill video tweet, and MP Chris Hazzard's decision to base his constituency service in a building named after two IRA men, Mr Dodds said there was a "lot of mistrust and bad blood" between the parties and their representatives' actions "did not help".

"All of that kind of context is difficult, we need a reaching out process, we need Sinn Fein to get back to a position they want to work with unionists rather than insulting victims of terrorism."

The North Belfast MP said civil servants were in a "difficult and unacceptable" position with Northern Ireland without decision-making ministers for the past 13 months.

"You couldn't survive 13 days in Whitehall without ministers and that wouldn't be tolerated," he said.

"We have not walked away, others have and we are prepared to go back into government tomorrow.

He said there needed to be a budget set for the forthcoming financial year in Northern Ireland and there needed to be decisions not just on how funds should be spent, but also on how the £1billion package agreed with the Conservatives should be allocated.

Mr Dodds said part of the confidence and supply deal cash had already been released and the rest could be spent with parliament authority.

Asked if the "deal would be off" if the government did not instruct for the release of the money, Mr Dodds said he was confident decisions would be taken and the "issue would not arise at all".

"Nobody wants to go back to full-blown direct rule, nobody wants to give up on devolution but in the mean time decisions have to be made for all the people of Northern Ireland."

He added: "The budget can be set at Westminster and clearly parliament can authorise ministers to take decisions necessary for the good governance of the province ... and I am confident that is what will happen."

He said attempts should continue to restore power sharing in Northern Ireland but it was "intolerable for everyone in Northern Ireland" to be affected by the political stalemate.

We want to maintain an open border with the Republic of Ireland. Nigel Dodds

On claims the DUP was "holding the government to ransom" over their calls for direct rule, he said Sinn Fein should take their seats in Westminster.

"They might find they would have more influence," he said.

"Advocating there should be some ministerial decision making and a budget set is a common sense position everyone should want to adopt.

"We want to get back to the Executive without any pre-conditions or red lines."

On recent comments the Belfast Agreement had "served its purpose and was dead" Mr Dodds said there were those using the debate to secure their own version of Brexit "or thwart Brexit".

"We want to maintain an open border with the Republic of Ireland," he added. "But we are also clear we do not want borders erected between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK."

Responding Sinn Fein MLA Conor Murphy said: "It is quite clear there are elements of the DUP who do not want the restoration of local institutions.

“The DUP wish to continuously deny rights that are afforded to citizens elsewhere on these islands.

“The best way to represent the people of the north is to implement previous agreements as a means to restoring the institutions on the basis of equality and rights for all citizens.”

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