Varadkar urges ‘concessions’ from DUP and Sinn Féin

Mary Lou McDonald calls for ‘plan B’ in case talks to restore powersharing fail

Sinn Féin MEP Lynn Boylan and Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald:  The party believes the British government should legislate at Westminster for abortion, same-sex marriage and an Irish language act for the North if the DUP refuses to agree. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

Sinn Féin MEP Lynn Boylan and Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald: The party believes the British government should legislate at Westminster for abortion, same-sex marriage and an Irish language act for the North if the DUP refuses to agree. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has appealed to the Northern parties to compromise in order to revive the Stormont institutions, while Sinn Féin has warned that the Irish and British governments must have a “plan B” to legislate for the Irish language, same-sex marriage and abortion rights at Westminster in case the talks fail.

Mr Varadkar urged Sinn Féin and the DUP to be “generous” and make concessions in the Northern talks to achieve a breakthrough that would enable the powersharing institutions be reconstituted, rather than focusing on what happens if they are not successful.

“We’d like people to focus on making them a success and that really requires all the parties, but particularly the two largest parties, the DUP and Sinn Féin, making progress and being generous and even making a few concessions that would allow us to get the powersharing institutions up and running,” Mr Varadkar said.

The Taoiseach was speaking after Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the two governments needed to have a “plan B” for what happens if the talks fail.

‘Positivity’

“We will go into these talks with hope and positivity,” Ms McDonald said. “We will also go in with our eyes wide open, because we have been to his place before. Whatever happens, we’re very clear that the current political stalemate cannot continue. It’s simply unacceptable at this stage.

“So in the event that we cannot resolve the equality issues, that the DUP cannot join with us to hard-wire equality into the system of governance . . . in those circumstances then the two governments will have to intervene.”

The party believes the British government should legislate at Westminster for abortion, same-sex marriage and an Irish language act for the North if the DUP refuses to agree.

Talks aimed at restoring devolution are set to begin next Tuesday following Thursday’s local election vote in the North. Stormont collapsed in January 2017 when the late Martin McGuinness resigned as deputy first minister.

British prime minister Theresa May has told her cabinet the London and Dublin governments are engaged in “intensive preparations” with the Northern Ireland parties ahead of the start of a fresh round of talks next week.

After the British cabinet meeting, Mrs May’s spokesman said: “The PM said that while momentum exists around the need to commence the talks process, we should not underestimate the challenges facing the Northern Ireland parties.

“Intensive preparations are now taking place between the UK and Irish governments and with the Northern Ireland parties on the structure and substance of the talks.”

However, Sinn Féin sources said they had not been given any details about the timing, schedule or agenda for the talks yet.

Meanwhile, the former head of the body responsible for decommissioning paramilitary weapons in Northern Ireland is concerned by the political vacuum left by the still-incomplete resolution to the decades-long Troubles.

John de Chastelain, one of the international peace brokers whose work led to the 1998 Belfast Agreement, says that it was never a “hard and fast political solution” to all the problems facing Northern Ireland, but rather a “blueprint” showing what should happen, with a lot more work required to make it happen.

“My great regret is that more than 20 years after the agreement was brought into effect, there are still those who are seeking to use violence to change what is achieved, particularly when a whole new generation of people who weren’t alive during the Troubles are now voting.”