This is ‘decision time’ in Stormont talks, says Sinn Féin leader

Northern Secretary: Negotiations to be accelerated next week at leadership level

Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill, Mary-Lou McDonald and Conor Murphy speaking as talks to agree the return of devolved government in Northern Ireland continue. Photograph:  Rebecca Black/ PA Wire

Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill, Mary-Lou McDonald and Conor Murphy speaking as talks to agree the return of devolved government in Northern Ireland continue. Photograph: Rebecca Black/ PA Wire

 

The Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald has called for a “step change” in the pace of the Stormont talks aimed at restoring the Northern Executive and Assembly.

Ms McDonald, who joined the Sinn Féin talks team for further negotiations at Stormont on Thursday involving the British and Irish governments and the four other main Northern Ireland parties, said it was time for the “real negotiations” to start.

She issued her call as the Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and the Northern Secretary Karen Bradley, who were also involved in Thursday’s talks, prepare to intensify the level of negotiations.

Mr Coveney is due to be directly engaged in the negotiations for most of next week as the focus turns to the most contentious of the issues to be resolved. These are an Irish language act, same sex marriage, stabilising any restored Northern Executive, and a programme for government.

No illusions

Ms Bradley, in a statement, said the governments and the parties were working hard to restore the powersharing institutions.

“Nobody is under any illusion that the route ahead will be easy. There are significant challenges but we continue to make progress,” she said.

“Next week we will accelerate the process further, with more frequent meetings at leadership level to discuss the outcomes from the working groups. All our efforts are focussed on reaching an agreement in the weeks ahead.”

Sinn Féin leader Ms McDonald said “now we need to move to a real negotiation”.

“Now we need to move beyond discussion and we need to move to a process which will actually allow us to resolve the outstanding issues,” she added.

“That means that we need to see a step change in terms of the pace and momentum of the talks. It means we need to get beyond broad discussion and into the arena of negotiating and of agreement.”

She added, “We have said from the beginning that we are here to get a deal, to do the business. We do believe that this is decision time, we believe that this process led by the two governments has raised expectations that the outstanding rights issues will be resolved, has raised expectations that sustainable powersharing can be established and a system of government that serves the needs of every citizen.”

She said “we have always said that is doable, that’s our position and that’s our belief but it does require leadership and it does require political will”.

Ms McDonald said “next week needs to look very different from this week - there needs to be a radical step change and we are here to resolve the issues to ensure that people have sustainable powersharing, that people have good government, government that makes room for every citizen”.

“We’re up for that and I think that next week the test will be for the two governments and the other parties as to whether they are up for that too,” she said.