British and Irish sources reject Sinn Féin’s Stormont demands

SF negotiator had called for Theresa May and Leo Varadkar to attend powersharing talks

Sinn Féin’s John O’Dowd (l) and Declan Kearney speak to the media at Stormont Castle, Belfast. Photograph: David Young/PA Wire

Sinn Féin’s John O’Dowd (l) and Declan Kearney speak to the media at Stormont Castle, Belfast. Photograph: David Young/PA Wire

 

Demands by Sinn Féin for Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British prime minister Theresa May to intervene in the Stormont talks on restoring the North’s powersharing institutions have met with a cool reception from Dublin and London.

With the talks on restoring the Northern Executive and Assembly set to continue through the weekend, senior Sinn Féin negotiator John O’Dowd urged Mr Varadkar and Ms May to travel to Belfast to give impetus to the negotiations.

“The British prime minister and the Taoiseach need to become directly involved in these talks. The British government need to remove their partisan approach, and set aside their relationship with the DUP, if these talks are to succeed,” said Mr O’Dowd.

“We are calling on the Taoiseach and the British prime minister to become directly involved in these talks as a matter of urgency.”

However, although the deadline for a deal was breached on Thursday, Irish and British sources have downplayed any suggestions Mr Varadkar and Ms May should participate in the Stormont Castle negotiations.

“We haven’t got to that stage yet,” said a London source.

A Dublin source said that it was primarily for the DUP and Sinn Féin to resolve the situation by reaching agreement on the key issues of the status of the Irish language, dealing with the past, same-sex marriage and a bill of rights for Northern Ireland.

The DUP also poured cold water on the idea of a visit by the British and Irish leaders.

“I think Sinn Féin can do the business very quickly. They know what is required of them,” said DUP senior negotiator Edwin Poots.

“They don’t need anybody to hold their hands. They just need to sit upstairs, take the decisions that need to be made.”

Disagreement over how legislation on the Irish language should be enacted is at the heart of the impasse between the DUP and Sinn Féin.

The DUP wants a composite Act that also embraces Ulster Scots, while Sinn Féin is insistent on a stand-alone Irish language Act.

“Whilst we understand that the Irish language is hugely important to Sinn Féin, health, education, jobs, the economy, infrastructure, the environment, agriculture, all of these issues are hugely important to us, hugely important to the public,” Mr Poots said.

“We would encourage Sinn Féin to narrow these issues down [and] deal with the issues that are asked of them.”

On Friday, Sinn Féin negotiator Conor Murphy said there had been “no closing of the gap” between his party and the DUP.

Responding to Mr Poots, Mr Murphy said the DUP needed to “take their heads out of the sand” and deal with the outstanding issues.

‘Space to talk’

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, who was at the talks all week, returned to the Republic on Friday afternoon.

His spokeswoman said he wanted to give the parties “time and space to talk” ahead of the new deadline on Monday.

Mr Coveney’s spokeswoman said the North’s parties engaged in a “good round of meetings” on Friday.

Mr Coveney is not expected back at Stormont until Monday, when Northern Secretary James Brokenshire is due to make a statement in the House of Commons on the situation.

If a deal is not reached, Mr Brokenshire has three options available to him - to call fresh Assembly elections; to bring back direct rule from Westminster, or to further extend the deadline for agreement into the early autumn.

Meanwhile, Scotland’s political leaders have issued a joint call for the introduction of same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.

First minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson, Labour’s Kezia Dugdale, Patrick Harvie from the Green Party and Liberal Democrat Willie Rennie all voiced their support for a law change in the North.