Talks between DUP and Sinn Féin at ‘critical’ stage, says O’Neill

With proper political will, agreement could be reached ‘in days’, says Sinn Féin NI leader

Sinn Féin Northern Ireland leader Michelle O’Neill. Photograph: Reuters/Clodagh Kilcoyne

Sinn Féin Northern Ireland leader Michelle O’Neill. Photograph: Reuters/Clodagh Kilcoyne

 

Efforts to restore the Northern Executive and Assembly are coming to a “critical” stage, Sinn Féin’s Northern Ireland leader Michelle O’Neill said at Stormont on Wednesday.

As the DUP and Sinn Féin continue their behind-the-scenes negotiations to restore the powersharing institutions, Ms O’Neill said time was running out to strike a deal. However she said that with the proper will, outstanding issues could be resolved in a matter of days.

Sources say the only major issue holding up agreement is the Sinn Féin demand for a free-standing Irish language act. The DUP is prepared to bring in Irish language legislation but wants it linked to a broader cultural act that would include matters such as support for Ulster Scots.

“We come at this wanting to make it work,” Ms O’Neill told reporters at Stormont. “We want to be in here. We want to pick our government departments. We want to be tackling the issues of public services.”

“We are clearly coming to a very critical period. But as I have always said this could be done in a number of days if the political will is there,” she added.

At the press conference Ms O’Neill again criticised the DUP’s commitment to prop up the Theresa May-led Conservative government at Westminster.

“Sinn Féin believes that locally elected ministers are best placed to deliver public services and prioritise our own political agenda,” she said.

“We want a sustainable Executive in place to be the bulwark against Tory cuts and austerity. But the DUP’s actions in handing the Tories a blank cheque to continue their destruction of the health service and the welfare state will make that task all the more difficult,” said Ms O’Neill.

“No party should be supporting or acquiescing to Tory austerity cuts to the detriment of our public services. We should be demanding an end to these cuts in order to protect the interests of the people we are all elected to represent.”

Meanwhile the British prime minister has stated that the British government has “limited options” if the talks fail. Ms May told UTV that if there is no agreement, the options could include another Assembly election or the introduction of direct rule from Westminster.

“What I want to do is give every encouragement to the parties in Northern Ireland to ensure that the Stormont talks don’t fail,” she said.

Ms May urged the parties to find a resolution and added, “I believe it’s the best solution for Northern Ireland to see the devolved administration up and running, to see the Executive reformed.”