North talks break down as Brokenshire begins to set budget

‘Honourable compromise’ to restore Executive remains possible, Coveney says

Sinn Fein’s Northern Ireland leader Michelle O’Neill with Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams. File image:  Mark Marlow/PA Wire

Sinn Fein’s Northern Ireland leader Michelle O’Neill with Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams. File image: Mark Marlow/PA Wire

 

An “honourable compromise” to restore the Northern Executive remains possible, the Minister for Foreign Affairs has insisted despite the breakdown of negotiations between the DUP and Sinn Féin.

Sinn Féin’s Northern leader Michelle O’Neill said on Monday that Northern Secretary James Brokenshire’s decision to begin bringing in a budget for Northern Ireland from Westminster was acknowledging that “an agreement hasn’t been possible”.

“This phase of the talks are over,” said Ms O’Neill at a Stormont press conference attended by senior Sinn Féin politicians including party president Gerry Adams.

“The reason for this is the DUP opposition to a rights based society. While some progress was made a denial of rights would not be tolerated in Dublin or in London and should not be tolerated here,” she said.

She said Sinn Féin met the DUP on Monday morning and told them of its decision to end the negotiations.

Ms O’Neill said that in the absence of an Executive and Assembly, responsibility to move on issues such as an Irish language act and same sex marriage now lay with the British and Irish governments.

She called for Dublin and London to convene a meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference to address issues which were blocking the return of devolution.

Pandering

Ms O’Neill said that direct rule from Westminster was “not an option”. She accused the British government of “pandering “to the DUP and said what Sinn Féin was seeking were reasonable requests.

She added, “Isn’t it such a shame that you can get married in London but you can’t get married here? Isn’t it such a shame that you can get married in Dublin but you can’t get married here in terms of same sex marriage?

“Isn’t it such a shame that you can have your language rights in other parts of these islands but you can’t have them here? These are very reasonable requests, and this is what is needed in order to establish these institutions again and we are fully committed to doing so.”

While Mr Brokenshire began moving his budget through Westminster on Monday he has insisted this is not a return to British direct rule, and that the budget was based on the proposals of Northern Ireland civil servants.

In the House of Commons, North Antrim DUP MP Ian Paisley called on Mr Brokenshire to appoint direct rule Ministers now.

“That it is not a step that I do intend to take, as he will know, while there is an opportunity for an Executive to be formed,” Mr Brokenshire responded.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Mr Coveney said he was “deeply disappointed” that the DUP and Sinn Féin could not reinstate the Executive.

“However, I have always believed that it is possible to reach an honourable compromise which ensures implementation of previous agreements and reflects the core principles of the Good Friday agreement and power-sharing itself - partnership, equality and mutual respect. It remains my conviction that this is achievable,” added Mr Coveney.

Ashamed

The SDLP leader Colum Eastwood accused Sinn Féin of delivering direct rule to Northern Ireland and said the party “should be ashamed of themselves”.

“While Sinn Féin and the DUP jointly promised they would not abandon the North to British direct rule, the betrayal of this promise by Sinn Féin is unforgivable. At a time when the government here should be working to protect this island from the chaos of a hard Brexit, Sinn Féin has handed Theresa May a free hand,” he said.

Mr Eastwood said that Sinn Féin ahead of its weekend ardfheis had “delivered a Tory/DUP government to the people of the North”.

Ulster Unionist Party leader Robin Swann said it was “clear that Sinn Féin have painted themselves into a corner and are now desperately looking to the two governments to give them a hand”.

“The re-establishment of an Executive and Assembly is being delayed by red lines Sinn Féin have created themselves; they could resolve this deadlock today,” he said.

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said that the appointment of an independent mediator would give talks the boost they needed. He said a mediator “will be able to play a constructive role to try and get all parties to understand why devolution collapsed, why the impasse remains and how we can find a way forward”.