Brokenshire confirms no Executive in the 'immediate term' - Sinn Fein and the DUP 'disappointed'
Summit mooted as possible option for 're-energising' process in September
Northern Ireland's Secretary of State James Brokenshire has confirmed that a new Executive will not be formed "in the immediate term".
In a statement this evening issued through his Department, Mr Brokenshire said: "Despite the progress made by the parties to restore devolved government in Northern Ireland, gaps remain."
"All parties have, however, emphasised their desire to remain engaged and to find a way to return to and resolve these issues. The Government welcomes this and will do all it can to work with the parties to achieve a successful outcome."
He said that the British Government "will not forget our responsibilities to uphold political stability and good governance in Northern Ireland" and that it remains "steadfast in its commitment to the Belfast Agreement and to governing in the interests of all parts of the community".
A statement was also issued by Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Coveney, who has been the representative of the Irish government at the Stormont discussions.
"Having met the parties and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland again this morning and talked through the detail of the outstanding issues, it now seems clear that agreement will not be forthcoming this week," said Mr Coveney.
"The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said yesterday that he stands ready to introduce the necessary legislation at Westminster to allow an Executive to be formed once the necessary political agreement is reached between the parties."
He added that "it is only the parties themselves that can make an agreement with each other" and reiterated the Irish government's backing for the Good Friday Agreement.
DUP leader Arlene Foster earlier confirmed that no deal had been reached to restore power-sharing, and suggested a deal will now have to wait until at least the autumn.
Speaking to a group of reporters outside Stormont, the former First Minister said that her party was "disappointed" an agreement couldn't be reached, but dismissed the idea that the summer break would create a "vacuum".
"We are going to continue talking throughout the summer, I want to send that message very firmly to the people we represent. I think what we want to see is an agreement that everyone can buy into, whether you’re a nationalist or a unionist," she said.
"I hope others involved in this process are looking at the bigger picture as well and are saying if we want devolution, then you need to find an accommodation that everyone can feel comfortable with."
She added that the decision by Secretary of State James Brokenshire to allow further time for the talks was to "give the parties some space" and that "he knows how much progress we have made".
We are going to keep working at it through the summer and hopefully we can come to an agreement later on in the year. Arlene Foster
Speaking a short time after Mrs Foster, Sinn Fein's leader in Northern Ireland Michelle O'Neill said that her party were "disappointed but not surprised that a deal had not yet been done", noting a lack of urgency at the talks.
"What this constitutes is a monumental failure on behalf of Theresa May, she has set back decades of work that has been done here throughout the years," O'Neill said.
"It is a consequence as we all know of the DUP supporting the PM, and in turn the PM supporting the DUP."
She said that her party were focused on "delivering rights that are available to citizens in other parts of these islands" and added "the reason we don’t see those rights afforded and the reason that Theresa May is sitting back and allowing that to happen is because she is in hock to the DUP".
What this constitutes is a monumental failure on behalf of Theresa May. She has set back decades of work that has been done here throughout the years. Michelle O'Neill
Commenting on the talks process, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said: "The most depressing commentary on today's 'pause' is that no-one will be surprised by it - least of all the public."
"However, just because we are well versed in the hugely frustrating pattern of these talks, it shouldn’t make us any less angry at what amounts to another failure. "
The UUP's leader Robin Swann this evening said that "it's groundhog day yet again in Northern Ireland politics" but that "devolution remains the best option for the people of Northern Ireland".
Secretary of State James Brokenshire, in the House of Commons on Monday, said a deal could be reached this week. However, sources have said the two main parties are "poles apart".
Sinn Fein sources said they expect the UK and Irish governments to suspend the negotiations, with the aim of restarting the process in a number of months. The party said it didn't expect a deal until the autumn.
The talks have stalled over the failure by the DUP and Sinn Fein to reach agreement on key issues such as an Irish language act, a Bill of Rights and legacy issues with sources saying the two main parties have not moved any closer and there is no expectation of a deal until after the summer.
Discussing the option of bringing in Prime Minister Theresa May and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar for a summit, Former Northern Ireland Secretary of State Shaun Woodward (Labour) Lord Reg Empey (UUP) and Daithi McKay (SF) all agreed that this could "re-energise" the talks process. They were speaking to the BBC.
Daithi McKay spoke of the "urgency" of resolving the outstanding issues and called for a new mediator. While recognising that there's not much point continuing talks during the first two weeks of July holiday and marching period, he said there was "no reason" why the negotiations couldn't continue after that.
Mr McKay said: "I think the format has to change because, after the election, when James Brokenshire was returned as the secretary of state, he didn't go into the process, nobody went into the process, doing anything differently.
"Not only do we need a summit, I think we need to look back to the work of the Good Friday Agreement and the work of George Mitchell.
"We do need somebody more independent [to chair the talks] because James Brokenshire was not viewed by nationalists as independent before the election, he certainly isn't now.
"We do have the evolving relationship between the Tories and the DUP and that will certainly continue to impact on relations between all the parties here.
"I do think we need some sort of summit to demonstrate that both governments are actually serious about resolving the difficulties at Stormont and we do need an independent mediator there to do it."
Former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Labour's Shaun Woodward, also said that the negotiations had been "complicated" by the Tories deal with the DUP, "if only because of suspicion that they might not be willing to put pressure on the DUP".
He commented: "What I feel would really help now would be a real, honest independent broker, like a George Mitchell."
Also agreeing that new energy is needed, Mr Woodward said: "For very complex reasons, the government has overseen drift happening. Neither side feels they have to move and they are waiting for the other side to move.
"By all, means have a summit. The two governments should be working hand in glove on this. A summit could help but I think what we have to be very clear about is what are the consequences if the summit should fail," he also stated. "What happens if the summit fails. That has to very clearly laid out for people Otherwise, this could drift on and on and on and that would be very bad."
Lord Reg Empey said he that bringing in prime ministers could be a risky strategy.
"We have done it in the past and it has been successful - but you may recall David Cameron came in one evening a couple of years ago - he found that the situation wasn't sufficiently ready and he scarpered away.
"The prime ministers is basically the last card you can play.
"Sometimes they can make a difference but, if they fail, then you're really in serious difficulty."
Lord Empey also called for all five of the parties in Northern Ireland to be brought together. "Let us not forget that the last time the five parties sat down together at the table was last Tuesday."
Prime ministers should not be brought in until "a lot of pressure" had already been brought to bear on the parties locally, he said.
"We're 19 years past the Belfast agreement, surely we would be showing respect to the people who are on waiting lists and in trouble in all sorts of ways if we were actually sorting things out ourselves instead of having somebody to hold our hand all the time.
"It's only in the last resort that you bring the prime ministers in and, as Shaun Woodward rightly points out, if that fails, we're in serious difficulty."
Belfast Telegraph Digital