Attempt to re-establish NI talks can begin, says Sinn Féin

Michelle O’Neill calls for short, focussed negotiation following informal contacts

Sinn Féin’s leader in the North Michelle O’Neill. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

Sinn Féin’s leader in the North Michelle O’Neill. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

 

There is enough progress in informal contacts between Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party for a formal attempt to re-establish the Northern Ireland Executive to begin, Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill has said.

Ms O’Neill said that formal talks should now being on getting the Stormont institutions back up and running after their collapse in January.

Her announcement comes after a period of informal contacts between Sinn Féin and the DUP.

Ms O’Neill made the comments in a speech at the second day of the Sinn Féin think in in the City North Hotel in Gormanston, Co Meath.

She called for a “short, sharp focussed negotiation” but said that a “parallel process” whereby talks on re-establishing the Executive could take place alongside talks on a stand alone Irish language act, as requested by Sinn Féin, is a non-runner.

This suggestion was made by DUP leader Arlene Foster last weeks. Ms O’Neill also rejected suggestions that Sinn Féin’s approach to government is Northern Ireland is influenced by its political ambitions in Dublin. “The Sinn Féin and DUP leaderships have for more than a week now been engaged in intensified dialogue to determine whether political progress is possible,” Ms O’Neill said. “We do believe progress is possible and are therefore ready to re-engage in formal negotiations together, and with the other parties and both Governments, to try and reach agreement in a short, sharp and focussed negotiation. This process should begin immediately.”

In response, DUP leader Arlene Foster said engagements with Sinn Féin have “stepped up” met the last week.

“We spent a number of days involved in a detailed engagement with them to ascertain whether an agreement on the issues before us is possible,” Ms Foster said.

“We intend to continue with a further series of bi-laterals with all of the other parties to determine whether agreement can be reached in the short time available.”

Ms O’Neill also she said wanted to “address directly the claims by some of our political opponents that Sinn Fein does not want the political institutions restored in the north – either because, they claim, we want to destabilise the north or even more bizarrely, that we do not want to re-enter the Executive so as to maximise our electoral prospects here in the South”.

She said these claims “are not only untrue, but are patently absurd, illogical and do not stack up”. “Firstly, and put simply, it is not in our strategic interests,” she added. “Our political strategy is premised on effective and functioning Government.

“We are fully committed to the Good Friday Agreement – an agreement which we negotiated and signed up to. “We are committed to these institutions because they provide the democratic vehicle for addressing the day to day issues which confront the people of the North.”