Sinn Féin and DUP remain deadlocked as time for deal narrows

Negotiations continue at Stormont ahead of Thursday’s deadline

Sinn Féin’s  Declan Kearney, Gerry Adams and Niall O Donnghaile at Stormont. Photograph:  Niall Carson/PA

Sinn Féin’s Declan Kearney, Gerry Adams and Niall O Donnghaile at Stormont. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

 

Sinn Féin and the DUP remained locked in disagreement over a proposed Irish language act and other issues as talks aimed at reinstating the Northern Executive and Assembly continued at Stormont late Tuesday night.

Sinn Féin’s national chairman Declan Kearney accused the DUP of refusing to move on critical issues such as an Irish language act, same sex marriage and a bill of rights for Northern Ireland.

As the Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and the Northern Secretary James Brokenshire encouraged the DUP and Sinn Féin to reach agreement, Mr Kearney was adamant that first there must be movement from the DUP.

“They have not in any shape or form moved in relation to rights for Irish language speakers. They have not moved in relation to the rights of members of the LGB and T community, and they are not honouring commitments to see the enactment of a bill of rights,” he said. “The DUP have not moved on any of the substantive issues that sit at heart of this political crisis.”

Mr Kearney said that provision for an Irish language act was an equality and human rights issue.

Asked was a deal possible without a separate Irish language act, he replied: “There must be a free-standing acht na Gaeilge, Irish language act. It is essential to ensure that we see the re-establishment of the political institutions. It is absolutely pivotal to the rights and equality agenda here in the north of Ireland.”

Earlier, former DUP leader and First Minister Peter Robinson supported the DUP argument that any agreement in relation to Irish must involve a composite act that also embraced Ulster Scots.

“There is no credibility in asserting your need to have your culture respected if you blatantly disrespect that of others,” Mr Robinson posted on Facebook.

At Stormont on Tuesday evening DUP negotiator Edwin Poots reiterated Mr Robinson’s take on the language dispute stating his party wanted to see “that all traditions are respected”.

“I encourage Sinn Féin to be mature, no high wire acts, let’s get down to work and knuckle down and find a way through this. It’s possible if people will apply themselves,” he said.

Mr Brokenshire is due at Westminster on Wednesday and Thursday for Northern Ireland questions and for key votes on the Queen’s Speech which the DUP’s 10 MPs have pledged to support as part of the £1 billion DUP-Tory deal to prop up Theresa May’s Conservative government.

Mr Brokenshire said he would remain involved with the continuing negotiations by telephone. He said at Stormont that the opportunity for a deal must be seized before Thursday’s 4pm deadline for agreement. “Time is marching on. It is about now reaching that conclusion, meeting that statutory deadline of Thursday afternoon, of finding a way through in the best interests of Northern Ireland,” he added.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said on Tuesday that he was more optimistic than pessimistic that an agreement would be reached. He also spoke to British prime minister Ms May about the talks and the DUP-Tory deal by phone on Tuesday evening.

Downing Street said Ms May and Mr Varadkar “confirmed their joint commitment to restore a Northern Ireland Executive as soon as possible and agreed to engage closely, and work with the parties in Northern Ireland, to bring back political stability and a strong voice at Stormont”.

The Sinn Féin chairman Mr Kearney appeared to indicate that in the event of an agreement that Sinn Féin could row back on its demand that DUP leader Arlene Foster must stand aside as First Minister pending the outcome of the inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme.

“If we can find resolution and progress on all of the fundamental issues then we can address issues of the future role of the DUP leader in a possible future Executive. But at this point in time that question is academic,” he said.