North talks collapse over Irish language
Mutual recriminations as latest bout of DUP-Sinn Féin negotiations end in failure
Speaking following the collapse of the DUP-Sinn Féin talks, DUP leader Arlene Foster said it was now incumbent on the British government to set a budget and start making policy decisions about schools, hospitals and infrastructure.
The DUP-Sinn Féin talks crashed on Wednesday evening after Arlene Foster issued a statement saying that differences over the Irish language could not be resolved.
The DUP leader said “serious and significant gaps” remained between her party and Sinn Féin especially on the issue of the Irish language. “In our view, there is no current prospect of these discussions leading to an Executive being formed,” said Ms Foster.
Sinn Féin responded to Ms Foster’s statement by blaming the DUP for the failure of the latest round of talks. The party’s leader in Northern Ireland, Michelle O’Neill, said “Sinn Fein engaged, we worked in good faith, we stretched ourselves”.
“We had reached an accommodation with the leadership of the DUP. The DUP failed to close the deal. They have now collapsed this process.”
Sinn Féin and other senior sources said an agreement had been effectively signed off on with the DUP. This included a compromise whereby there would be an Irish language act and also Ulster Scots and culture acts.
It seems however that grassroots unionist opposition to an Irish language act was pivotal in prompting Ms Foster to issue her statement on Wednesday evening. “For almost four weeks, we have been engaged in intensive negotiations with Sinn Féin. We have attempted to find a stable and sustainable basis for restoring devolution. Those discussions have been unsuccessful,” she said.
“Despite our best efforts, serious and significant gaps remain between ourselves and Sinn Féin especially on the issue of the Irish language,” she added.
“I have made it consistently clear that unionists will not countenance a stand alone or free standing Irish language act. Sinn Féin’s insistence on a stand alone Irish language act means that we have reached an impasse,” said Ms Foster.
The DUP leader continued, “As far back as last summer, I outlined my party’s willingness to reach an accommodation on language and cultural issues. However, I indicated that any such accommodation must be fair, balanced and capable of commanding support on all sides of our community. At the moment, we do not have a fair and balanced package.
After the Assembly election, I embarked on an engagement exercise with those who love and cherish the Irish language. I respect the Irish language and those who speak it but in a shared society this cannot be a one-way street. Respect for the unionist and British identity has not been reciprocated.”
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said in a statement: “I very much regret the statement from the DUP. Power sharing and working together are the only way forward for Northern Ireland.
“The Tánaiste and the Secretary of State are in close contact and we will continue to confer with the British Government about the next steps.”
Ms Foster said it was now incumbent on the British government to set a budget and start making policy decisions about schools, hospitals and infrastructure. “Important decisions impacting on everyone in Northern Ireland have been sitting in limbo for too long,” she said. “I had dearly hoped that we could have restored an Executive and local Ministers could have taken those decisions. That is not possible at this time. Northern Ireland is best governed by local Ministers who are accountable to local people,” she added.
Ms Foster said that restoring a “sustainable and fully functioning devolved government will remain our goal but we will not accept a one-sided deal”.
“Any agreement to restore the Executive must be on a sensible basis. We cannot and will not be held to ransom by those who have refused to form an Executive for over thirteen months,” she said.