Northern secretary acknowledges ‘difficult week’ but says deal still possible

Foster rejects language act as damaging to ‘Britishness of Northern Ireland’

Stormont talks: Karen Bradley said a powersharing deal was still possible. Photograph: Michael Cooper/PA Wire

Stormont talks: Karen Bradley said a powersharing deal was still possible. Photograph: Michael Cooper/PA Wire

 

The UK secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley, has said politicians can still reach a deal to restore powersharing at Stormont if they have the will to do so.

The fifth phase of talks between Sinn Féin and the DUP aimed at re-establishing devolved government restored in the North ended on Wednesday when the DUP leader, Arlene Foster, withdrew her party from the process.

Ms Bradley acknowledged it had been a “difficult week” but said an agreement between the DUP and Sinn Féin was still possible. Speaking after meeting members of the public in Belfast city centre, she said: “All I’ve heard from everybody is they want government at Stormont.”

On Thursday the DUP rejected Sinn Féin claims that a draft package was in place last week that included acts on the Irish language, Ulster Scots, and respecting language and diversity.

Ms Bradley refused to comment on whether a draft agreement had been in place or whether the three proposed acts were a reasonable compromise that should be acceptable to unionists.

Ms Foster meanwhile said she would agree to nothing that “diminishes the Britishness of Northern Ireland”. Speaking in Enniskillen on Friday, she said that if Sinn Féin continued to call for an Irish-language act “then they will unfortunately continue to hold Northern Ireland to ransom, and I regret that greatly. I am not prepared to do anything that is damaging to Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom.”

She added: “Will I acknowledge there are some people in Northern Ireland who love the Irish language? Of course I will, but I am not going to do anything that will impinge on the lives of those of us who don’t engage with the Irish language.”

Sinn Féin’s ardchomhairle will meet in Dublin on Saturday morning to discuss the party’s next move. The meeting will be attended by the party’s leader, Mary Lou McDonald, and deputy leader, Michelle O’Neill.