DUP accused of stopping deal to restore Assembly by Christmas

Four of North’s five main parties ready to sign up except for DUP, says Julian Smith

Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith hosts a meeting at Stormont to urge  leaders to make commitments to tackling the North’s spiralling health service crisis. Photograph: Pacemaker/PA Wire

Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith hosts a meeting at Stormont to urge leaders to make commitments to tackling the North’s spiralling health service crisis. Photograph: Pacemaker/PA Wire

 

Northern Secretary Julian Smith and Tánaiste Simon Coveney have blamed the negative reaction of the DUP for scuppering a deal that could have restored the Northern Executive and Assembly before Christmas.

Mr Smith said on Thursday night that four of Northern Ireland’s five main parties were prepared to sign up to a document outlining an agreement to reinstate Stormont by Monday after a hiatus of almost three years.

Ratcheting up the pressure on the DUP, he indicated that the British government was prepared to provide significant funding to deal with issues such as Northern Ireland’s health service crisis, which saw nurses go on strike this week.

Talks on restoring powersharing began on Monday following the UK general election, and Mr Smith said he wanted to publish the text of an agreement on Thursday night or Friday, but that the DUP was not prepared to sign up to it at this stage.

I am deeply disappointed that we haven’t got all five parties in agreement

He said the number of outstanding issues was “extremely limited” and that while some further negotiation was necessary, the remaining stumbling blocks could be addressed “in a matter of hours not days”.

“I am deeply disappointed that we haven’t got all five parties in agreement. There is time tonight to reflect on that decision,” he said.

Change of position

Mr Smith and Mr Coveney indicated that efforts to strike a deal would resume after Christmas, although they felt that with a change of mind from the DUP it still could be done by Monday. However, sources said that such a change of position appeared highly unlikely.

Mr Smith said that some but not all in the DUP were willing to endorse the deal. “I know that there are people in the DUP who wanted to move forward, and I would urge them to move forward so that we could get this done.”

Sources close to the talks remained confident, however, the DUP and the four other parties would strike an agreement to restore Stormont before the January 13th deadline that Mr Smith has set for a deal.

The DUP will not be moving forward unless we get a fair and balanced deal

The strength of the comments by Mr Smith showed a sharp change in direction by Dublin and London, but particularly by the British government, which is no longer dependent on the DUP at Westminster.

A DUP spokesman criticised the two governments.

“This is a crude attempt to bounce people,” he said.

Senior DUP negotiator Edwin Poots later said “there has been some effort by others to box us into a corner . . . The DUP will not be moving forward unless we get a fair and balanced deal.”

Irish language

He also said difficulties remained over the Irish language and that there was lack of clarity over what cash injection the British government would provide to assist a new Executive and Assembly.

Mr Coveney, who is also Minister for Foreign Affairs, said he was “on the exact same page” as Mr Smith.

“We are going to continue to work together. The British and Irish governments are really in lockstep here,” he said.

“We are at a place now where the two governments within hours could produce texts as a basis for an agreed deal. We believe we could produce texts that are a fair compromise.

“There is a deal to be done, Northern Ireland can move forward, Stormont can turn the lights back on and start making decisions for Northern Ireland again.”

Mr Coveney warned that it would make no sense to publish a document outlining the terms on which powersharing could be restored in the absence of full agreement by all the parties.

“Everybody knows that what you don’t do in a difficult negotiation that involves compromise is to produce texts and then not act on that because others then try to create problems that aren’t really there,” he added.