Fresh bid likely to break North deadlock

Coveney and Northern Secretary Bradley expected to meet soon to consider deadlock

The first anniversary of the collapse of Stormont was marked by more recrimination between the DUP and Sinn Féin as the British and Irish governments weigh up whether another round of negotiations could break the political deadlock.

As the new Northern Secretary, Karen Bradley, held introductory telephone conversations with the DUP and Sinn Féin leaders, the toxicity from the row over the Kingsmill tweet by Sinn Féin's Barry McElduff – together with a new controversy over a Sinn Féin "snub" of an invitation to a British royal garden party – continued to poison politics in Northern Ireland.

Yesterday there was more unionist criticism of the Sinn Féin decision to suspend West Tyrone MP Mr McElduff for three months for posting a video of him with a loaf of Kingsmill bread on his head. It was posted on the 42nd anniversary of the Kingsmill massacre in which the IRA killed 10 Protestant textile workers in south Armagh.

There was further controversy after the Sinn Féin chairman of Derry City and Strabane District Council Maeliosa McHugh used his casting vote after a tied vote on Monday turning down an invitation for a councillor, almost certainly a unionist, to attend a Buckingham Palace garden party.



The DUP said the decision of Mr McHugh, who in October refused to meet Prince Charles when he was visiting flood victims in the Derry area, was “shameful”.

Sinn Féin justified the vote on the grounds that while it was prepared to accommodate a councillor going to the garden party it was not prepared to have ratepayers bear the cost of the trip.

It is against this background that Ms Bradley and Tánaiste Simon Coveney must try to coax the DUP and Sinn Féin into making another attempt to strike a deal to restore Stormont. The two Ministers are expected to meet shortly.

Ms Bradley spoke separately by phone to DUP leader Arlene Foster and to Sinn Féin's Northern leader Michelle O'Neill yesterday. Ms O'Neill said she told Ms Bradley that "if any new talks to restore the Executive are to succeed, there must be a new approach" from the British government.

“They must stop enabling and defending the DUP’s denial of rights which is blocking a return to powersharing and which would not be tolerated in her own country,” said Ms O’Neill.


Unionists meanwhile, continued to deride the three months suspension of abstentionist MP Mr McElduff as “meaningless”, adding that it illustrated Sinn Féin’s demands for a respect agenda were “hollow”.

Sinn Féin deputy leader, Mary Lou McDonald, said Mr McElduff’s action was “crass, stupid and obnoxious”. But it was not malicious and he did not set out to hurt anyone, she added.

When asked why Sinn Féin had pushed for the resignation of former minister for justice Frances Fitzgerald while Mr McElduff was only suspended for three months, she told RTÉ there was a world of difference between his "crass and stupid tweet, for which he had apologised, and the systemic pursuit of Maurice McCabe".

In a statement yesterday, the Sinn Féin chairman Declan Kearney said the political situation had "become unsustainable" when the late Martin McGuinness resigned as deputy first minister one year ago, thus collapsing Stormont.

There “would be no return to the status quo”, Mr Kearney repeated.

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times