Coveney says Foster has made ‘real effort’ to reconvene NI talks
Sinn Féin has dismissed a DUP proposal to restore a powersharing government
Sinn Féin’s northern leader Michelle O’Neill outside the party’s headquarters in Belfast. The party has rejected a DUP proposal for an an immediate restoration of the assembly in Northern Ireland. Photograph: Justin Kernoghan
“ It is the first time that I have ever heard a leader of the DUP committ to legislating for the Irish language. It’s the first time I’ve heard a leader of the DUP say that Unionism has nothing to fear from facilitating and supporting the use of the Irish language in Northern Ireland, ” Mr Coveney told Newstalk.
“I think it does change the tone of the debate. I think that Arlene Forster has made a real effort this week”.
His comments come after it was announced he and Northern Secretary James Brokenshire will meet the leaders of the five main parties in the North early next week to see if there is any prospect of talks resuming on the restoration of the executive.
Mr Brokenshire is to meet with the parties separately at Stormont on Monday.
Mr Coveney will visit Northern Ireland on Tuesday as he is in Brussels on Monday meeting Michele Barnier to discuss Brexit.
The Ministers are trying to establish if there is a basis to reconvene formal talks.
The move comes after Sinn Féin after dismissed on Friday a DUP proposal to restore a powersharing government at Stormont.
Sinn Féin’s Northern leader Michelle O’Neill said her DUP counterpart Arlene Foster had made an offer in a speech the previous night that she “knew would be rejected”.
Ms Foster proposed the immediate restoration of the Assembly along with a parallel, time-limited process to introduce legislation around culture and language matters, which have been a stumbling block in inter-party discussions.
On whether there was any potential or room for movement in the DUP proposals, Ms O’Neill said “no, the offer of a parallel process is not a new one”.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said Ms Foster’s statement “warranted engagement not immediate rejection”.
“In our view the executive should never have been collapsed. Given the enormous challenge of Brexit and the other challenges facing the working people of Northern Ireland, the fact that there is still no executive after eight months is disgraceful.”
He said Sinn Féin had called for talks to recommence on reviving the assembly recently.
“However, when a proposal was put to them last night they rejected it immediately. We should remember that Sinn Féin initially collapsed the executive because of the renewable heating controversy. Eight months later the issue has now changed to the enactment of the Irish Language Act.
“While Fianna Fáil supports the Irish Language Act we do not believe that it should be used as a political pawn when basic services for citizens are deteriorating,” Mr Martin said.
Hurler on the ditch
Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams rejected Mr Martin’s view. “His comments are the product of jaded political opportunism from a cynical hurler on the ditch.”
Devolved government collapsed in January when the late Martin McGuinness resigned as deputy first minister over the “cash for ash” green energy controversy.
A series of deadlines for restoring powersharing have since been missed, and the prospect of a return to direct rule from Westminster has been raised.
Ms O’Neill said the DUP had not addressed the cause of Stormont’s collapse, and her party wanted talks to recommence so issues such as an Irish Language Act, same-sex marriage and legacy issues could be addressed.
“The people out there want government, locally accountable institutions, they want the institutions to work, but they have to work in the way in which they were intended. They have to work on the principles of true powersharing.”
UUP leader Robin Swann accused Sinn Féin of “intransigence”, and Alliance Party deputy leader Dr Stephen Farry said more “flexibility” must be shown in the Sinn Féin approach if the public is to believe it is not pursuing a “chaos strategy”.
Ms O’Neill welcomed comments from Ms Foster that unionism had nothing to fear from the Irish language, but said the “natural follow through to that is to legislate for language rights”.
She rejected the suggestion Sinn Féin was pursuing a chaos strategy, saying it was committed to making the institutions work.
In a Twitter post DUP MP Sammy Wilson said Sinn Féin “don’t do their jobs at Westminster” and “won’t turn up for work at Stormont. Why would anyone vote for these malingerers?!”
DUP MLA Edwin Poots told BBC Radio Ulster that Ms Foster had proposed a way out of the logjam. “I would encourage Sinn Féin to pick up the mantle once again and do the job they are elected to do.”