Sinn Féin calls for ‘tangible benefits’ from governments’ meeting

DUP dismisses British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference as ‘paper tiger’

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald (right) and her deputy, Michelle O’Neill. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald (right) and her deputy, Michelle O’Neill. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire.

 

Sinn Féin has insisted a meeting of the Irish and British governments on Northern Ireland later this month must produce tangible results on issues such as legislation on Irish language rights and marriage equality.

The DUP has sought to dampen expectations, referring to the gathering is a “paper tiger”.

However, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald and deputy Michelle O’Neill appear determined to counter the DUP claims that the July 25th meeting in London will amount to little more than a talking shop.

They are also seeking progress on inquests into Troubles-related killings, an issue that has been stalled for decades.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British prime minister Theresa May agreed last week that the conference – a provision of the Belfast Agreement – should meet at the end of July, the first move to break the deadlock over Northern Ireland powersharing in months.

Sinn Féin MP Michelle Gildernew said the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference wais the only “discussion vehicle” available in the absence of devolution at Stormont.

Hiatus

Powersharing has been on hiatus for almost 18 months due to the failure of Sinn Féin and the DUP to reach agreement on restoring the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive.

The institutions collapsed in January 2017 when the deputy first minister Martin McGuinness resigned over the ‘cash for ash’ controversy. An inquiry into the botched renewable heating incentive scheme is ongoing.

“It’s very important that there are tangible benefits from having that meeting,” Ms Gildernew, a Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP, told the BBC NI Sunday Politics programme.

“We have been calling for this meeting for some time. It should have happened in February when the talks [between the parties] collapsed.”

The Government has been in favour of calling the conference, which has not met since February 2007 in Dundalk.

The DUP, however, continued to insist the gathering is a “paper tiger”.

“It cannot deal with devolved issues . . .which are best dealt with in Belfast by the parties elected to deal with them,” DUP MLA Christopher Stalford said.

The south Belfast Assembly member’s comments came as his party leader Arlene Foster and deputy leader Nigel Dodds prepare to meet Ms May in London on Monday.

In a so-called confidence-and-supply arrangement, the 10 DUP MPs in Westminster have agreed to prop up the minority Conservative government.

The deal includes a pledge of more funding for health, education and delayed projects in the North.