‘Highly unlikely’ Stormont will be reinstated soon, deputy DUP leader says

Nigel Dodds says there was a ‘lot of bad blood’ between DUP and Sinn Féin in wake of collapsed talks

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds with party leader Arlene Foster,  outside the Palace of Westminster in London earlier this week. Photograph: Peter Nicholls/Reuters

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds with party leader Arlene Foster, outside the Palace of Westminster in London earlier this week. Photograph: Peter Nicholls/Reuters

 

It is “highly unlikely” that the Northern Executive and Assembly will be restored soon, the DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds has stated.

Mr Dodds said on Sunday that there was a “lot of bad blood” in the wake of the failure of the DUP-Sinn Féin talks aimed at bringing back a powersharing administration to Northern Ireland.

As the British and Irish governments seek to chart a way forward out of the 13 months of political deadlock, the North Belfast MP said it was “difficult to say” when talks between the DUP and Sinn Féin would resume.

“We need a reaching-out process; we need Sinn Féin to get back to a situation where they’re actually wanting to work with unionists.” Mr Dodds told ITV’s Peston on Sunday programme.

“There’s a lot of distrust, there’s a lot of bad blood,” he said. “It’s unfortunate the talks have come to an end, we now need decisions taken on spending and on budgets,” he said.

Mr Dodds “confidently” predicted that in the absence of Stormont, the Northern Secretary Karen Bradley would, within two weeks, begin introducing through Westminster a budget for Northern Ireland.

Sinn Féin MLA Conor Murphy responding to Mr Dodds said the DUP should implement the “accommodation they reached with Sinn Féin”.

“The best way to represent the people of the North is to implement previous agreements as a means to restoring the institutions on the basis of equality and rights for all citizens.”

While the latest series of talks collapsed primarily over unionist antipathy to a proposed Irish language Act, there were other issues that the two parties had difficulty in resolving, including funding for Troubles-related inquests and more generally, how to deal with the past.

Survivors, victims and relatives of those killed in Troubles-related incidents take part in the Time for Truth campaign’s march in Belfast. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Survivors, victims and relatives of those killed in Troubles-related incidents take part in the Time for Truth campaign’s march in Belfast. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Time For Truth march

On Sunday, a number of groups took part in a Time For Truth march to Belfast City Hall. Organisers said more than 5,000 people joined the parade which was also attended by Sinn Féin’s Northern leader Michelle O’Neill and Assembly member Emma Rogan whose father Adrian was one of six people killed by the UVF at the Heights Bar in Loughinisland in June 1994.

The parade was organised before the collapse of the talks on February 14th. In recent days DUP and Sinn Féin politicians have been locked in a row over the release of funding for inquests.

Sinn Féin’s justice spokesman, Gerry Kelly, said his party had an agreement with the British government that such funding would be provided, while the DUP leader Arlene Foster said “no one in the DUP was aware of inquest funding being progressed in the absence of an overall agreement”.

The British government’s position hitherto has been that there would be no movement on inquests and dealing with the past until there was an overall political deal to restore the Executive and Assembly.

Victims as a ‘bargaining chip’

Mark Thompson of Relatives for Justice (RFJ), which also participated in Sunday’s march, said the British government must not use victims as a “bargaining chip” in the efforts to reinstate Stormont.

“It’s disingenuous of the Secretary of State and the UK government to dangle as a carrot in front of political parties, ‘If you guys can get a deal, we will give victims their rights’,” he said.

“These rights are obligations and rights that are held under the European Convention and the Human Rights Act,” asserted Mr Thompson.

Meanwhile, Ms O’Neill said it was the responsibility of republicans “to spell out to unionists what sort of united Ireland we as republicans seek and to reassure the unionist people of their place in an Ireland of equals”.

Meabh McConnell (8) whose great aunt Mary Sheppard was killed in 1974, as survivors, victims and relatives of those killed in Troubles-related incidents took part in the Time for Truth campaign’s march in Belfast. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Meabh McConnell (8) whose great aunt Mary Sheppard was killed in 1974, as survivors, victims and relatives of those killed in Troubles-related incidents took part in the Time for Truth campaign’s march in Belfast. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Speaking at an Irish unity conference in Cork on Saturday, Ms O’Neill said Brexit could be a factor in persuading unionists to support a united Ireland. “I am confident, that as the consequences of Brexit become clearer and as we get closer to the withdrawal stage, that more and more people from a unionist background will be open to the idea of exploring new relationships on this island,” she said.

“Irish nationalism and unionism must reach a sustainable compromise through respectful dialogue, premised on anti-sectarianism, that will move us to the point of exploring how we can accommodate each other’s aspirations in a manner that does not demand the surrender of cultural or traditional identity,” said Ms O’Neill.