Varadkar and May urge DUP and Sinn Féin to settle differences

Two main Northern parties still incapable of ending deadlock over Irish language

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British PM Theresa May discussed the latest talks setback by phone on Monday. Photograph:  Gareth Chaney Collins

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British PM Theresa May discussed the latest talks setback by phone on Monday. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British prime minister Theresa May have said it is up to the DUP and Sinn Féin to resolve their differences to get the Northern Executive and Assembly back up and running.

There was hope in Dublin and London last week that the two main parties would manage to break the deadlock at some point this week to facilitate the return of Stormont.

But it became clear on Saturday that, despite some progress, the DUP and Sinn Féin could not bridge the gap on the Irish language, the key issue that is blocking a political deal.

Mr Varadkar and Ms May discussed the latest talks setback by phone on Monday.

“Both leaders noted that while progress has been made over the past few weeks significant gaps still remained, including on Irish language, and it was up to the two main parties to overcome differences and reach agreement,” said a Downing Street spokeswoman.

Local decisions

“The prime minister said she was absolutely clear that it was in the interests of everyone in Northern Ireland to see a fully functioning Executive up and running so that local decisions could be made by local politicians,” she added.

Former US president Bill Clinton, as part of an Irish visit, was due to meet the DUP and Sinn Féin on Monday to try to encourage them to iron out their differences. Storm Ophelia, however, forced the cancellation of that meeting.

There was still a possibility that Mr Clinton would meet the two main parties on Tuesday in Belfast, although that had not been confirmed by Monday night. The aftermath of Storm Ophelia could have a bearing on whether a meeting would take place.

Restore devolution

Mr Clinton has taken a keen involvement in the peace process for more than 20 years. When he spoke at the funeral of Martin McGuinness in Derry in January he urged the parties to “finish the work” of the late deputy first minister and restore devolution.

There is general consensus that after weeks of behind-the-scenes talks, the DUP and Sinn Féin have made political progress but cannot find a workable compromise on the Irish language.

Sinn Féin is demanding a standalone Irish language Act while the DUP wants legislation linked to support for Ulster Scots. Despite intensive negotiations, neither party could reach an accommodation on their opposing positions.

In the absence of an Executive there is immediate pressure on Northern Secretary James Brokenshire to bring in legislation to allow for a budget for Northern Ireland.