Stormont goes through another day of talks about talks

Northern Secretary has meetings with Simon Coveney, North’s main political parties and church leaders on how to restore Stormont

Michelle O’Neill:  “We did not hear anything new from Karen Bradley that would give us any kind of hope that her government has any interest in prioritising the needs of people here”

Michelle O’Neill: “We did not hear anything new from Karen Bradley that would give us any kind of hope that her government has any interest in prioritising the needs of people here”

 

Sinn Féin has described as a “bit of a groundhog day” efforts by Northern Secretary Karen Bradley at Stormont to restart a talks process aimed at restoring the Northern Executive and Assembly.

Sinn Féin Northern leader Michelle O’Neill made her comments following a day of talks involving Ms Bradley, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, the North’s five main parties, and leaders of the main churches in Northern Ireland.

Ahead of the talks Ms Bradley made it clear that in effect the meetings at Stormont were talks about talks to bring back the powersharing administration. It crashed in January last year when the late Martin McGuinness stood down as deputy first minister in a dispute with the DUP over the botched renewable heat incentive scheme.

Ms Bradley said the discussions partly were about the “means of restarting talks aimed at restoring devolution – today is another important step in that process”.

Ms O’Neill was critical of the level of engagement. “We did not hear anything new from Karen Bradley that would give us any kind of hope that her government has any interest in prioritising the needs of people here.”

Ms Bradley is preparing new legislation that in the absence of devolution should allow civil servants to take key decisions without the threat of court challenges.

Ms O’Neill said she made it clear to the Northern Secretary “that any attempt to move towards direct rule will fail”.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds also expressed reservations about giving civil servants greater powers. “I think more work needs to be done on that, and we have left the Secretary of State with a list of concerns that she needs to address before this legislation is tabled.”

Ulster Unionist Party MLA Steve Aiken warned that the legislation did not allow for proper accountability and was susceptible to legal challenge. “It will last as long as there is a High Court judgement against it. It is an opportunity for every lawyer in Northern Ireland to try to get a judicial review against it.”

Building trust

The church leaders said building trust was vital in the moves to bring back a powersharing administration. They said the meeting with Ms Bradley was positive and encouraging.

“Our discussions today came on the back of our meeting with the political parties a week ago, where we discussed our concerns over the impact of the absence of devolved government in Northern Ireland and the importance of relationships and building trust,” they said in a statement.

The church leaders reiterated their “willingness and desire to assist and support where we could in the challenges that lie ahead”. They also “emphasised the imperative to find space for ongoing dialogue”.

The church leaders at the meeting were the Most Rev Dr Richard Clarke, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland; Rev William Davison, president of the Methodist Church in Ireland; The Most Rev Bishop Noel Treanor, Catholic Bishop of Down and Connor; and the Right Rev Dr Charles McMullen, moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.