Sinn Féin rejects DUP’s call to restore Stormont immediately
New talks plan expected to be announced on Friday by British and Irish governments
DUP’s Arlene Foster with Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill at the funeral service for murdered journalist Lyra McKee in Belfast on Wednesday. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Pool via Reuters
Sinn Féin on Thursday rejected the DUP’s latest call for Stormont to be restored immediately with a talks process aimed at ending their disagreements to run in parallel.
The DUP wants Stormont restored immediately, with no pre-conditions, and a parallel talks process to deal with the issues which have led to the North being without a devolved government since January 2017.
Speaking ahead of the expected announcement on Friday of a new talks plan sponsored by the British and Irish governments, DUP leader Arlene Foster said: “It’s not a balanced discussion if Sinn Féin get everything they want and my community is left with nothing, it can’t be a five-nil situation.”
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald told RTÉ Radio the issues that led to the fall of Stormont could be “sorted out in one hour”, while deputy leader Michelle O’Neill said the party “stands ready to re-establish the power-sharing institutions by resolving the issues of rights and equality at the heart of the impasse”.
However, Sinn Féin says it wants “sustainable power-sharing” and is calling for a British Irish Intergovernmental Conference to be convened.
The party argues this would allow the two co-guarantors of the 1998 Belfast Agreement – the British and Irish governments – to find a way to address rights issues for the LGBT community, women, Irish speakers and victims of the Troubles.
The DUP has resisted legislating for these concerns and in the past used the Petition of Concern to block the introduction of same-sex marriage legislation.
A DUP spokesman said ministers “can get decisions made” straight away if Stormont was restored. Outstanding issues could be discussed and no single party had the 30 votes required to independently trigger a Petition of Concern veto on its own.
‘Time for leadership’
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has proposed the suspension of the Petition of Concern blocking mechanism for the remainder of this assembly “in order to legislate for rights and for all of our futures through the democratic mandate handed to us by the people of Northern Ireland” alongside a review of the same.
“It is clear there is an assembly majority to resolve the outstanding issues if we remove the veto. We need to bring our people back together, we need to bring our government back together. This is a time for leadership, for courage and for compromise.”
Pressure on the parties to re-engage in talks intensified since Lyra McKee was murdered in Derry last week by dissident republicans. There was a standing ovation at the funeral service of the 29-year-old journalist on Wednesday when Fr Martin Magill urged Northern Ireland’s politicians to reform the power-sharing government.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Ms Foster said the service had been “very moving in so many ways”.
Asked if she felt the violence was caused because people were frustrated there was no sitting assembly, she responded: “I don’t accept that the violence of Lyra’s death was caused by a political vacuum.
“That’s not to say that we [politicians] don’t bear responsibility because there is no assembly.”