London must ‘step in and govern Northern Ireland,’ Foster says

Sinn Féin leader says DUP had accepted draft deal which included Irish Language Act

Sinn Féin leader  Mary Lou McDonald and deputy leader Michelle O’Neill photographed at a news conference on the  breakdown of talks about  powersharing at  Stormont on Thursday. Photograph:  Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald and deputy leader Michelle O’Neill photographed at a news conference on the breakdown of talks about powersharing at Stormont on Thursday. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters.

 

DUP leader Arlene Foster has called on British prime minister Theresa May to step in and govern Northern Ireland following the collapse of the latest round of talks on restoring powersharing.

Ms Foster on Wednesday issued a statement saying there was no prospect of recent talks aimed at ending the 13 month deadlock at Stormont resulting in a new Northern Executive. Sinn Féin calls for an Irish language act have been cited as the main sticking point.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald claimed that the DUP reached a “draft agreement” on restoring powersharing with her party before pulling out of the talks.

She said she would be giving copies of the text of the draft agreement to the UK and Irish governments and briefing the other Stormont parties on its detail.

She said Sinn Fein had advised the DUP to close the deal before it could be “unpicked” by opponents but the unionists failed to do so.

After her call for Ms May to to step in and govern Northern Ireland, Ms Foster added: “Obviously she and I both wish that was through a devolved administration in Stormont. I haven’t given up on that and we will come back to that, but at the moment we have reached an impasse and therefore there is a necessity for her to step in and to pass a budget,” she told Sky News.

Ms Foster said there had been no offer to Sinn Féin of an Irish language act.

“I regret that we didn’t reach an agreement because they were insisting on having this free-standing Irish language act. That is not something that I could sign up to and I was always very clear about that,” she said.

Ms McDonald said Sinn Féin would not publish the draft agreement but she outlined some of its provisions at a news conference in Stormont on Thursday.

Diversity Act

The draft deal included an Irish Language Act, an Ulster Scots Act and a Respecting Language and Diversity Act, Ms McDonald said on Thursday.

“The Irish Language Act included provision for official recognition of Irish, the creation of an Irish language commissioner,” she said. “The repeal of the ban on Irish in the courts was also to be legislated for...It did not involve at any stage making Irish compulsory or applying quotas to public services. This was not a consideration. ”

No agreement was reached on marriage equality but both Sinn Féin and the DUP agreed to review “the abuse of the petition of concern”, which makes it harder to pass legislation, ahead of an expected private member’s bill on the issue.

Ms McDonald added: “It is up to Arlene Foster to explain this given that the DUP and Sinn Féin leaderships had achieved an accommodation across the issues involved.

“In fact we had a draft agreement by the end of last week. At that time we advised the DUP leadership that the deal should be closed before those opposed to it could unpick what we had achieved.

“We made it clear that if there was a delay there was every chance that the package would unravel.

“The DUP failed to close the deal and went on to collapse the talks process.”

Ms Foster dismissed claims said she had lost control of her party as “nonsense” and said that she had kept her party officers briefed throughout the negotiations.

“We have had a number of meetings so I could bring them up to date as to where we are at but I have never felt that I am in a position that I can make a recommendation and so no recommendation has been made to my officer board,” she said. - PA