DUP denies it is responsible for failure to reach deal to restore Assembly

Northern Secretary Julian Smith and Tánaiste Simon Coveney blame party for scuppering deal before Christmas

Northern Secretary Julian Smith:  he and Simon Coveney have indicated that efforts to strike a deal will resume after Christmas. Photograph: Getty Images

Northern Secretary Julian Smith: he and Simon Coveney have indicated that efforts to strike a deal will resume after Christmas. Photograph: Getty Images

 

The DUP has “flatly rejected” the suggestion that the party was responsible for the failure to reach agreement to restore the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Talks concluded without a deal on Thursday evening, with both the Northern Secretary Julian Smith and Tánaiste Simon Coveney blaming the DUP for scuppering the chance of a deal before Christmas.

They said the rest of the North’s five main parties had been prepared to sign up to a document outlining an agreement to reinstate the devolved administration at Stormont.

Following an “honest” meeting with Mr Smith on Friday, the DUP’s Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said his party had “urged the Secretary of State to reflect on his approach”, and said he should “keep focused on the long-term outcome rather than short-term battles about the calendar”.

“Devolution has been in cold storage for three years because of a Sinn Féin boycott yet not once did the Secretary of State ever single out Sinn Féin for criticism,” he said.

However, he said the DUP remained committed to the talks process, and said it has “asked the Secretary of State to continue work after Christmas”.

“We can move forward and will work with the other parties to get the right outcome.”

Petition of concern

His DUP colleague Sammy Wilson told BBC Radio Ulster the party was not prepared to sign up to “quick fix” deal.

“We wanted to move forward and have as quick an outcome to these talks as possible. But we will not be simply accepting any kind of deal just to satisfy his [the Secretary of State’s] desire to have the assembly up and running.”

Proposals to reform the petition of concern – a blocking mechanism which gives a community veto over the assembly’s decisions and which has been used by the DUP in the past to block changes like the legalisation of same-sex marriage – has emerged as a key sticking point for the DUP.

The sustainability of the Assembly is also a key factor, with the DUP seeking changes to ensure the Assembly is more stable and cannot be collapsed as readily in the future.

However, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said there was “no good reason” why the Assembly could not have been reinstated this week. “A deal can be done, and I think a deal is almost done; it’s just a matter of timing.”

Sinn Féin’s chief negotiator Conor Murphy accused the DUP of “deliberately torpedoing” the talks process, telling BBC Radio Ulster that the DUP “turned up yesterday with no intent of doing business, no intent on seeking out detail on the financial package or any other issue, and then went out and briefed the media saying this wasn’t happening before Christmas”.

Broad content

Responding to comments from the DUP’s Gregory Campbell, who said the party could not “agree to the release of a paper which we haven’t seen”, Mr Murphy said this was “disingenuous” and the parties “know the broad content of the paper is the issues we all discussed over many, many months”.

On Friday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the Irish and British governments were “really determined to do everything that we can to get the parties together and have an inclusive administration in Northern Ireland”.

Both Mr Smith and Mr Coveney have indicated that efforts to strike a deal will resume after Christmas, and sources close to the talks are confident that agreement will be reached before the January 13th deadline.