Belfast Telegraph

SF in call on rights issues before powersharing negotiations can resume

Sinn Fein's Stormont leader has said there is no basis for powersharing negotiations to resume unless the UK and Irish governments commit to delivering on "rights" based issues.

Following a meeting with Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire at Stormont, Michelle O'Neill said: "When the last phase of talks ended, we made it very clear that the issue of rights was not going to go away.

"We have today had a meeting with the British government, with James Brokenshire. He did not put any process on the table that would allow for the delivery of rights or a process that we could sign up to.

"So as we stand here today, the onus remains on the British government and indeed the Dublin government to deliver the rights based issues; rights that are available to citizens elsewhere on these islands and in that case, that would pave the way for the Executive to be restored."

Ms O'Neill added: "What we can't do is go round and round a hamster wheel in endless talks."

Her comments appear to have punctured Prime Minister Theresa May's hope that negotiations could resume this week.

Powersharing at Stormont collapsed in January when Sinn Fein pulled out of the Executive with the DUP, in protest at allegations of how they had handled a renewable energy scheme.

Since then, both parties have entered numerous rounds of talks aimed at restoring the executive. However, the parties have been unable to reach agreement on a number of issues related to language and culture.

Sinn Fein has called for a standalone Irish language act, but the DUP has said it will only agree to a cross community language bill with provisions for Ulster Scots.

Earlier this month, a Budget was passed at Westminster to ensure local government departments did not run out of money in the absence of a devolved Assembly to pass the legislation.

Mr Brokenshire has insisted that passing the Budget is not tantamount to direct rule, and urged the parties to continue talks in a bid to reach an agreement.

Speaking at the DUP's annual conference on Saturday, party leader Arlene Foster said the DUP remains committed to returning to powersharing - but that progress had been blocked by Sinn Fein.

She said: "We would have re-established the Executive eight months ago without any preconditions. We would have got the government going again while dealing with issues of language and culture in parallel, but such a pragmatic approach was rejected by the 'heavy' brigade in Sinn Fein."

In a statement, DUP MLA Simon Hamilton accused Sinn Fein of "checking out" of politics in Northern Ireland.

He said: "Sinn Fein brought Stormont down almost a year ago.

"Now they're refusing to re-enter talks aimed at re-establishing the Executive.

"Sinn Fein voters, as much as voters for any party, need a government up and running again to deal with issues in health, in housing, in education and in the economy.

"One would be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that Sinn Fein have 'checked out' of politics in Northern Ireland and are now only interested in the politics of the Irish Republic."

Mr Hamilton added: "We remain ready to re-engage in talks but Northern Ireland cannot go on indefinitely without ministers to take important decisions.

"If Sinn Fein are now opting out entirely, then we need to move fast to other options that allow the people of Northern Ireland to have the government they need."

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