Talks to restore Northern Executive to resume at Stormont

Uncertainty over whether Brokenshire will attend as UK election result clouds picture

DUP leader Arlene Foster and Conservative leader Theresa May. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/PA Wire

DUP leader Arlene Foster and Conservative leader Theresa May. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/PA Wire

 

Talks aimed at restoring the Northern Executive and Assembly are to resume at Stormont on Monday, notwithstanding the fallout and uncertainty following from Thursday’s Westminster general election.

As the Conservative Party and the DUP continue their efforts to tie down a confidence-and-supply agreement to prop up a new Theresa May-led Tory government, the five main parties said on Sunday they would be at the talks.

Delegations from the DUP, Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the Ulster Unionist Party and Alliance also are due to meet the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Charlie Flanagan, at Stormont on Monday.

At the time of writing there was some uncertainty over whether James Brokenshire would continue as Northern Secretary and whether he would be at the talks.

After a busy weekend of contacts between the Conservatives and the DUP, both parties appeared to be still on course to sign off on an agreement to ensure Ms May gets back into 10 Downing Street.

There was some confusion, however, after Downing Street initially said an agreement had been finalised with the DUP. This was after Conservative chief whip Gavin Williamson met DUP leader Arlene Foster in Belfast on Saturday.

At midnight on Sunday the DUP issued a statement of clarification to say the two sides were still exploring “how we might bring stability to the nation at this time of great challenge”.

Positive talks

The DUP said the talks “so far have been positive” and that “discussions will continue next week to work on the details and to reach agreement on arrangements for the new parliament”.

Ms Foster yesterday told Sky news, “We had very good discussions with the Conservative Party in relation to how we could support them in forming a national government; one that would bring stability to the nation. Those discussions continue.”

Ms Foster will travel with her 10 MPs for the opening day of parliament on Tuesday and she will also hold further discussion with Ms May at Downing Street.

In the meantime the Northern Irish parties resume talks aimed at reinstating Stormont, where the power-sharing executive collapsed in January shortly after the then Sinn Féin deputy first minister, the late Martin McGuinness, resigned.

He was concerned at the DUP’s role in the so-called “cash for ash” controversy over a botched renewable energy scheme that could result in an overspend of £400 million. Sinn Féin has been demanding that Ms Foster stand aside while an inquiry into the scheme is conducted.

Honest broker

Ahead of the Stormont negotiations the Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams said the parties should consider the appointment of an independent chair of the talks rather than leaving them under the direction of whoever is the Northern Secretary.

“If the DUP don’t prioritise the restoration of the institutions, and instead decide to become a prop for a dysfunctional minority government in London, then the parties should consider inviting an independent chairperson to oversee proceedings,” he said.

Mr Adams said that Sinn Féin had never accepted that the British government was impartial or neutral. “We will continue to press ahead for a speedy return to the institutions while monitoring closely the machinations in London,” he said.

North Belfast SDLP Assembly member Nichola Mallon also said Mr Brokenshire could not be considered “an honest broker”.

“How can you have a secretary of state sitting as an honest broker when they already have a deal with one of the parties sitting around the table?” she asked on BBC’s Sunday Politics programme.

Alliance MLA Dr Stephen Farry agreed. He said, “The government will have one hand behind its back and if it tells the DUP to agree to something it doesn’t want to, then the DUP will pull the plug and the whole thing will come crashing down.

“We cannot stop them from making this deal, but the repercussions for Northern Ireland are potentially severe,” he added.

The Ulster Unionist Party’s Danny Kennedy said the other parties would have to “wake up” and accept the situation.