New push to break Stormont political deadlock
Sinn Féin and DUP at odds over previous agreements
Sinn Féin’s leader at Stormont Michelle O’Neill: the British government needs to “stop pandering to the DUP” and the chief issues for Sinn Féin are around the legacy of the past, a Bill of rights and an Irish language Act. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA
The British and Irish governments and the northern parties on Monday embark on a new attempt to reinstate Stormont after the failure to meet last week’s deadline for a deal.
Structured talks aimed at forming a government in Northern Ireland and implementing previous agreements are scheduled to start at Stormont Castle.
Following the collapse of three weeks of talks after the snap Assembly election on March 2nd, the northern secretary James Brokenshire on Friday invited the five main parties – DUP, Sinn Féin, SDLP, UUP and Alliance – to take part in the new negotiations.
These will include roundtable talks with the British and Irish governments that had been missing from the last round of talks, which a range of Stormont parties described as “shambolic” and “shapeless”.
At a Sinn Féin strategy conference in Ballyfermot, Dublin, on Sunday, the party’s northern leader Michelle O’Neill said a negotiation team from her party would be at the Stormont talks and that their focus would be on “full implementation of what has gone before”.
Ms O’Neill said the British government needed to “stop pandering to the DUP” and that chief issues for Sinn Féin were around the legacy of the past, a Bill of rights and an Irish language Act.
“We need to see movement on these things,” she said.
“These are not new things. These are things that have been previously agreed so it is over to the other parties and all of us to try to find a way through the difficult issues in the weeks ahead.”
While Sinn Féin has claimed there is a previous agreement on a range of issues, the DUP is arguing it is not party to a number of these deals and so the matters are still up for negotiation.
Sinn Féin has stated that an Irish language Act was part of the 2006 St Andrew’s agreement but the DUP said it was not party to that element of the deal. A Bill of rights for Northern Ireland was contained in the 1998 Belfast Agreement but again the DUP did not support that agreement.
Architecture to deal with the legacy of the Troubles was agreed in the December 2014 Stormont House Agreement. That included proposals to create an Historical Investigations Unit, an Independent Commission on Information Retrieval and an Oral History Archive.
That architecture was never built upon because of Sinn Féin and SDLP concern that the British government would exploit the defence of British national security to prevent the truth emerging about British state killings and alleged collusion with loyalists.
Meanwhile, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said Brexit was the “biggest catastrophe since partition” and the triggering of article 50 by the British government last week “should focus minds in the days ahead”.
Before the collapse of the last round of talks, politicians said some progress was made on how to address the implications of Britain quitting the European Union.
UUP MLA Doug Beattie, a former soldier, welcomed structure to the new talks but warned that “trenches are being dug deeper” and there is no indication there will be progress if the DUP and Sinn Féin are not prepared to compromise.
“If Sinn Féin and the DUP don’t make a deal there won’t be a deal but that doesn’t make the other parties irrelevant,” he told the BBC Sunday Politics programme.
Mr Beattie said he did not believe Sinn Féin wanted an agreement as it knew elements of the Irish Language Act “will not be acceptable to unionists”.
Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry spoke of the hunger among the electorate for a government to be formed and called for “an executive with a proper Brexit plan”.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan is engaged with EU work on Monday but will rejoin the talks on Tuesday.