Sinn Féin rejects calls for details of compromises with DUP
British and Irish governments and parties in North renew efforts to restore devolution
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood: wants the DUP and Sinn Féin to detail what progress was made during their autumn talks. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA
Sinn Féin has rejected calls to provide details on reported compromises it and the DUP agreed during failed talks to re-establish the Northern Executive and Assembly last November.
As another round of negotiations to restore devolution began at Stormont on Wednesday, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood called on the DUP and Sinn Féin to detail what progress was made during their autumn talks.
The Ulster Unionist Party leader Robin Swann made a similar demand on a day at Stormont when Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and the new northern secretary Karen Bradley engaged in a series of meeting on how to end the political impasse.
The soon-to-be-appointed president of Sinn Féin Mary Lou McDonald led a delegation that included northern leader Michelle O’Neill and senior Sinn Féin negotiator Conor Murphy in Wednesday’s talks.
Just over a year since Stormont collapsed, the Irish and British governments and the northern parties, primarily the DUP and Sinn Féin, have been trying to resolve disputed issues such as Irish language and same-sex marriage legislation, a Bill of rights and Troubles killings inquests.
Sinn Féin wants the talks to be “short” and “sharp”.
Ms Bradley has said while she hopes to update the House of Commons on what progress is achieved on February 7th, that date is a “milestone” rather than a “deadline”.
Against this uncertain backdrop, SDLP leader Mr Eastwood said the DUP and Sinn Féin must stop pretending to the public they had not shifted their negotiation positions.
Mr Eastwood said the two governments told him on Wednesday that the two main parties had conceded significant ground on key issues last November and were very close to a deal.
“We are not interested in propping up a farce and it’s about time we began to be honest with the public because the two governments have both confirmed to us today what we all already know: that last November both the DUP and Sinn Féin compromised significantly and they are denying that truth to the public,” he said.
UUP leader Mr Swann called on the DUP and Sinn Féin to declare where they stand after last year’s talks. “We see no point in joining a process to rehearse or regurgitate arguments and discussions that have already been,” he said.
Mr Murphy brushed off these calls, saying he saw no point in providing details of last autumn’s negotiations. “We said last year we made progress in the talks, we said we haven’t made enough progress – we were very clear about all of that,” he said.
Talks behind doors
“But we have never conducted our negotiations in public and that has served negotiations well over the last 20 years. So I don’t think it serves any point to conduct negotiations in public,” he added.
DUP negotiator Gregory Campbell, after holding what he described as“quite productive” talks with Ms Bradley, said his party was prepared to re-enter the Executive without preconditions.
“Minds need to be concentrated now. We know what the issues are and we know what is sellable and doable. Now we needed to be sure to get to the finish line and get the product that both communities can live with,” added the East Derry MP.
In the House of Commons, British prime minister Theresa May said Northern Ireland needed strong devolved government and political leadership.
“They cannot continue to have their public services suffer by the lack of an Executive without ministers making key policy and budget decisions,” she said. “So we are determined to re-establish a fully functioning inclusive devolved administration that works for everyone in Northern Ireland.”