Varadkar and May pressed to intervene in Stormont talks

British and Irish Ministers urge the DUP and Sinn Féin to get a deal done this week

Talks remain deadlocked on a number of issues, but chiefly over the Irish language. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Talks remain deadlocked on a number of issues, but chiefly over the Irish language. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

British prime minister Theresa May and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar are coming under increased pressure to get involved directly in the Stormont talks.

Northern Secretary James Brokenshire did not rule out such an intervention when giving the Northern parties more time on Monday to reach a deal to restore the Northern Executive and Assembly.

Last week, Sinn Féin senior negotiator John O’Dowd called on Mr Varadkar and Ms May to travel to Stormont to provide badly needed momentum to the negotiations, which remain deadlocked on a number of issues, but chiefly over the Irish language.

In the House of Commons on Monday Mr Brokenshire faced calls from a number of Labour Party and Liberal Democrat MPs to involve the two leaders in the talks.

Labour’s shadow spokesman on Northern Ireland, Owen Smith, called on Mr Brokenshire to use his influence on Ms May. “He could tell her to get more involved herself; indeed to get on a plane to Belfast,” he said.

Mr Brokenshire said Ms May was actively engaged and had spoken by phone to DUP leader Arlene Foster and Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill over the weekend. He noted she also recently met all the party leaders at Downing Street.

“Particular interventions may not necessarily have the desired outcome,” he said.

But when later pressed by Labour MPs, Mr Brokenshire was careful not to rule out such intervention.

Mr Brokenshire said he and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney were trying to achieve a deal with the parties at Stormont and said he would “use all interventions appropriately”.

Three options

Mr Brokenshire has three options if the talks fail to reach agreement: to call Assembly elections; to introduce direct rule from Westminster; or to extend the deadline for a deal into the early autumn or late summer.

There was some surprise that when making his statement at the House of Commons on the failure to meet last Thursday’s deadline for a deal that Mr Brokenshire was not more specific about which option he favoured.

Instead, he effectively allowed the parties the remainder of this week to strike a deal.

After that, Northern Ireland is into the Twelfth of July parading period when there is little prospect of political agreement.

Separately, Mr Coveney called on the parties to “stretch themselves” to do a deal this week.

“The next 24 hours will be vital if progress is to be made before the advent of the summer holiday period. The key issues to be resolved will be no easier in the autumn than they are now,” he said.

Ms Foster said the “onus was on Sinn Féin”.

The DUP leader said she had “a great deal of respect” for those who loved the Irish language and would support proposals that would find favour among Irish speakers. She said Sinn Féin was exploiting the issue to assert “cultural supremacy” over sections of the community.

“Either they can lead us into another election or they can lead us inexorably towards direct rule, and they know the consequences of that,” she said.

Ms O’Neill said Mr Brokenshire’s statement was “unhelpful” and was “further evidence of the Conservative government pandering to the DUP”.

Meanwhile, Ms O’Neill accused the Conservatives of making a “side-deal” with the DUP after Mr Brokenshire said donations to Northern Ireland’s parties were to be published.

Until now, for security reasons related to the Troubles, political donations were not publicised in order not to identify donors.

But now Mr Brokenshire has decided that donations as of July 1st will be published. Ms O’Neill criticised him for not bringing in retrospective legislation that would have allowed publication going back to January 2014.

The DUP has been under pressure to provide more details about a donation of about £425,000 (€484,000) it received from an organisation called the Constitutional Research Council to support the Leave campaign in the Brexit referendum.

A significant portion of the money was used to buy a four-page supplement in the Metro freesheet in London and other British cities urging people to vote to leave the EU.