DUP have checked out of powersharing, says Sinn Fein
Northern Ireland has been without a properly functioning powersharing government for almost 16 months.
Sinn Fein has accused the DUP of checking out of Stormont powersharing and making no effort to find a way to restore devolution.
The party’s vice-president, Michelle O’Neill, also claimed the UK Government’s confidence and supply deal with the DUP at Westminster was now the “greatest obstacle” preventing the resurrection of coalition government in Belfast.
Mrs O’Neill launched the twin-pronged attack on the DUP and Conservatives as she emerged from a meeting with Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley at Stormont.
Mrs Bradley is meeting all the main Stormont parties on Thursday as she continues to consider ways to revive devolution.
Mrs O’Neill said she also urged Mrs Bradley to take action to cut the pay of Assembly members amid the ongoing political crisis.
Northern Ireland has been without a properly functioning powersharing government for almost 16 months, due to the bitter stand-off between the two main parties.
A row that broke out over a botched green energy scheme, and widened to encompass long-standing disputes such as the Irish language and gay marriage, shows no sign of resolution.
Negotiations to restore the institutions have effectively been on ice since Valentine’s Day, when the talks broke up in acrimonious circumstances amid claim and counter-claim about a proposed deal to break the impasse.
Mrs O’Neill said that while she had met DUP leader Arlene Foster since that fall-out, at events to which they had both been invited, she insisted there had been no “meaningful” engagement in the last two and half months.
“We haven’t had a real or meaningful engagement with the DUP because they have checked out,” she said.
“Since the talks collapsed the DUP have been preoccupied by Brexit, they have been preoccupied with their relationship with the Tories at Westminster and they are not engaged in terms of trying to get these institutions up and running again.
“I don’t think they should get carried away with their supply and confidence deal, which we all know will be short-lived.
“The effort should be here, it should be on negotiations, it should be on getting these institutions up and running and functioning for all people.”
Mrs O’Neill said Thursday’s meeting represented the first real attempt by Mrs Bradley to engage with the parties in two and half months.
The senior Sinn Fein representative said the discussion inside Stormont House was “frank”.
The DUP have checked out of powersharing Michelle O'Neill
“I put this directly to her – I believe the British government are prioritising their supply and confidence deal over getting the institutions up and running here in the north,” said Mrs O’Neill.
“And therein lies the greatest obstacle to getting the institutions up and running and an executive that’s functioning for all of our citizens.
“The DUP have checked out of powersharing.”
She added: “That is the wrong approach and that is an approach that is being pandered to by the British government because of their supply and confidence deal.”
Six weeks ago, Mrs Bradley signalled an intent to cut the salary of members of the crisis-hit Stormont Assembly.
She said she was “minded” to slash MLA pay by 27.5%, but would seek the views of the local parties before making a final decision.
The Conservative MP has still not indicated what her final decision will be.
Mrs O’Neill said she told the Northern Ireland Secretary to get on and implement the cut.
On Wednesday, Mrs Foster insisted Sinn Fein was the only one of Stormont’s five main parties standing in the way of an immediate restoration of powersharing.
Mrs Foster said her meeting with Mrs Bradley was “routine”.
“I am glad she is meeting all the parties and I hope she will recognise that four of the five main parties would restore devolution immediately,” she said, ahead of the encounter.
“There is only one party which has placed barriers and preconditions in the path of returning local decision-making to Northern Ireland.”
Mrs Foster added: “I will be urging the Secretary of State to ensure that necessary decisions are taken and the people of Northern Ireland do not suffer because of Sinn Fein’s narrow agenda.”