Sinn Féin accuses DUP of collapsing deal to restore Assembly
Proposed agreement to restore Stormont crashes over Irish language Act
Michelle O’Neill: “We had reached an accommodation with the leadership of the DUP. The DUP failed to close the deal. They have now collapsed this process”
Sinn Féin Northern leader Michelle O’Neill has accused the DUP of collapsing a deal to restore the Northern Executive and Assembly after Arlene Foster said differences over the Irish language could not be resolved.
Tánaiste Simon Coveney described the crash of the negotiations as “clearly very disappointing” as the British and Irish governments began to examine how to cushion the political impact of the breakdown.
The presence of Mr Varadkar and British prime minister Theresa May at Stormont on Monday had raised hope of an agreement to reinstate the Executive and Assembly by the end of this week. Ultimately, however, DUP leader Ms Foster was unable to sell a compromise on the Irish language that well-placed sources said she had effectively agreed with Sinn Féin.
Sinn Féin’s insistence on a stand-alone Irish language Act means that we have reached an impasse
That compromise, the sources said, involved creating three Acts to deal with Irish, Ulster Scots and cultural matters. This would have allowed Sinn Féin argue that it had achieved its demand of a stand-alone Act, while the DUP equally could say all the legislation was interconnected and complementary.
“We had reached an accommodation with the leadership of the DUP,” said Ms O’Neill. “The DUP failed to close the deal. They have now collapsed this process.”
“Sinn Féin engaged, we worked in good faith, we stretched ourselves,” added Ms O’Neill.
Ms Foster said what was on offer was not “a fair and balanced package”.
“I respect the Irish language and those who speak it, but in a shared society this cannot be a one-way street. Respect for the unionist and British identity has not been reciprocated,” said the DUP leader.
She said “serious and significant gaps” remained between her party and Sinn Féin, especially on the issue of the Irish language.
Any agreement to restore the Executive must be on a sensible basis. We cannot and will not be held to ransom by those who have refused to form an Executive for over 13 months
“In our view there is no current prospect of these discussions leading to an Executive being formed. I have made it consistently clear that unionists will not countenance a stand-alone or free-standing Irish language Act. Sinn Féin’s insistence on a stand-alone Irish language Act means that we have reached an impasse.”
The British and Irish governments must now find a way to proceed. Any move to a return to direct rule from Westminster will be resisted by Sinn Féin and the SDLP.
Ms Foster said it was now incumbent on the British government to set a budget and start making policy decisions about schools, hospitals and infrastructure. “Important decisions impacting on everyone in Northern Ireland have been sitting in limbo for too long.”
She said restoring a “sustainable and fully-functioning devolved government will remain our goal, but we will not accept a one-sided deal”.
“Any agreement to restore the Executive must be on a sensible basis. We cannot and will not be held to ransom by those who have refused to form an Executive for over 13 months.”