Coveney and Brokenshire try to ‘edge’ DUP and Sinn Féin towards a deal

Northern Secretary said some progress made but ‘clear differences’ remain

 Sinn Féin’s Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, Pat Sheehan and Caoimhe Archibald launch the party’s health document A National Health Service for a United Ireland. Photograph: Jonathan Porter/

Sinn Féin’s Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, Pat Sheehan and Caoimhe Archibald launch the party’s health document A National Health Service for a United Ireland. Photograph: Jonathan Porter/


The Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney joined Northern Secretary James Brokenshire for talks with the DUP and Sinn Féin at Stormont on Monday as the negotiations reach what all sides agree is a “critical” stage.

Dublin and London are hoping that the DUP and Sinn Féin by the end of this week will state whether they believe outstanding issues between them can be resolved in order to restore devolution or whether the deadlock between them can’t be broken.

Mr Coveney travelled to Stormont for the talks on Monday without informing the media in the hope that there would be no publicity about the negotiations. He was spotted at Parliament Buildings in Stormont, however. His press office said the Minister would be making no comment on his involvement in the talks on Monday.

The British and Irish governments have been trying to “edge” the DUP and Sinn Féin towards a deal that would reinstate the Northern Executive and Assembly but differences between the two parties over a proposed Irish language act remains the main obstacle to an agreement.

Sinn Féin is seeking a standalone act while the DUP wants more composite “cultural” legislation that would incorporate support for Ulster Scots.

Mr Brokenshire said on Monday that some progress has been achieved in the talks but that “clear differences” remain.

Spirit of compromise

“The DUP and Sinn Féin continue their discussions towards the formation of an Executive in Northern Ireland, ” said Mr Brokenshire in a written parliamentary statement,

“The parties have reduced the number of issues between them – including on some aspects of language and culture – but clear differences still remain.

“I have urged the parties to focus their remaining efforts and energies on closing the outstanding gaps swiftly to find a resolution which will pave the way for the restoration of devolved government in Northern Ireland. With the right spirit of compromise this can be achieved and now is the time to come together and reach agreement,” added Mr Brokenshire.

Sinn Féin West Belfast Assembly member Pat Sheehan would not confirm if progress had been made when on Monday afternoon at Stormont he launched the party’s discussion paper, A National Health Service for a United Ireland.

“There’s quite a bit of work to be done still,” he said. “We’ll continue working until either there is a deal done or the thing falls apart, but at the moment our aim is to have the institutions up and running. Whatever differences that exist we’re working to bridge that gap,” added Mr Sheehan.

“Until that happens we will continue with the talks. We hope that they are fruitful and that the institutions can be re-established,” he said.

Irish language

Meanwhile, the Ulster Unionist Party leader Robin Swann made clear that his party would not support the DUP should it make compromises on the Irish language to satisfy Sinn Féin.

“The Ulster Unionist Party certainly won’t be giving cover to the DUP and Sinn Féin to cover up their own failings,” said Mr Swann.

“And we won’t be signing up to an agreement which will Balkanise Northern Ireland through the granting of an Irish language act and using the Ulster Scots or military covenant as cover for political failure. It would be disrespectful to those who cherish Ulster Scots and our armed forces community and they should not be used as bargaining chips. It is low politics,” he added.

The military covenant is a commitment to provide special support for British army veterans and their families in Northern Ireland in terms of matters such as healthcare, housing and children’s education.