Thursday 20 July 2017

No deal in Northern Ireland, but talks set to continue over the summer

Summit mooted as possible option for 're-energising' process in September

Sue Doherty

DUP leader Arlene Foster has confirmed that no deal has been reached to restore power-sharing in Northern Ireland, but talks are due to continue throughout the summer.

Speaking to a group of reporters outside Stormont, the former First Minister said that her party was "disappointed" an agreement couldn't be reached, but dismissed the idea that the summer break would create a "vacuum".

"We are going to continue talking throughout the summer, I want to send that message very firmly to the people we represent. I think what we want to see is an agreement that everyone can buy into, whether you’re a nationalist or a unionist," she said.

"I hope others involved in this process are looking at the bigger picture as well and are saying if we want devolution, then you need to find an accommodation that everyone can feel comfortable with."

She added that the decision by Secretary of State James Brokenshire to allow further time for the talks was to "give the parties some space" and that "he knows how much progress we have made".

Speaking a short time after Mrs Foster, Sinn Fein's leader in Northern Ireland Michelle O'Neill said that her party were "disappointed but not surprised that a deal had not yet been done", noting a lack of urgency at the talks.

Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill. Picture: AFP/Getty
Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill. Picture: AFP/Getty

"What this constitutes is a monumental failure on behalf of Theresa May, she has set back decades of work that has been done here throughout the years," O'Neill said.

"It is a consequence as we all know of the DUP supporting the PM, and in turn the PM supporting the DUP."

She said that her party were focused on "delivering rights that are available to citizens in other parts of these islands" and added "the reason we don’t see those rights afforded and the reason that Theresa May is sitting back and allowing that to happen is because she is in hock to the DUP".

Commenting on the talks process, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said: "The most depressing commentary on today's 'pause' is that no-one will be surprised by it - least of all the public."

"However, just because we are well versed in the hugely frustrating pattern of these talks, it shouldn’t make us any less angry at what amounts to another failure. "

The British and Irish governments are expected to announce the suspension of the Stormont power-sharing talks on Tuesday afternoon.

Secretary of State James Brokenshire, in the House of Commons on Monday, said a deal could be reached this week. However, sources have said the two main parties are "poles apart".

Sinn Fein sources said they expect the UK and Irish governments to suspend the negotiations, potentially later today, with the aim of restarting the process in a number of months. The party said it didn't expect a deal until the autumn.

DUP leader Arlene Foster speaking to the media accompanied by party colleagues at Stormont Castle, Belfast, as talks aimed at restoring powersharing in Northern Ireland continue (PA)
DUP leader Arlene Foster speaking to the media accompanied by party colleagues at Stormont Castle, Belfast, as talks aimed at restoring powersharing in Northern Ireland continue (PA)

Discussions continued inside Stormont Castle on Tuesday, but no substantive progress was made.

In a statement Irish Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said:

“Having met the parties and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland again this morning and talked through the detail of the outstanding issues, it now seems clear that agreement will not be forthcoming this week.

“The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said yesterday that he stands ready to introduce the necessary legislation at Westminster to allow an Executive to be formed once the necessary political agreement is reached between the parties.

“The Governments can support and encourage but, in the final analysis, it is only the parties themselves that can make an agreement with each other. All sides may now wish to reflect on how progress can best be made and I would encourage the parties to maintain dialogue with each other over the coming weeks.

“The Irish Government remains steadfast in our commitment to the Good Friday Agreement and to the success of its interlocking institutions. We are determined to play our part in supporting the resumption of the power-sharing government in Northern Ireland – and the sooner that happens the better.”

Stalled

The talks have stalled over the failure by the DUP and Sinn Fein to reach agreement on key issues such as an Irish language act, a Bill of Rights and legacy issues with sources saying the two main parties have not moved any closer and there is no expectation of a deal until after the summer.

Daithi McKay spoke of the "urgency" of resolving the outstanding issues and called for a new mediator. While recognising that there's not much point continuing talks during the first two weeks of July holiday and marching period, he said there was "no reason" why the negotiations couldn't continue after that.

Mr McKay said: "I think the format has to change because, after the election, when James Brokenshire was returned as the secretary of state, he didn't go into the process, nobody went into the process, doing anything differently.

"Not only do we need a summit, I think we need to look back to the work of the Good Friday Agreement and the work of George Mitchell.

"We do need somebody more independent [to chair the talks] because James Brokenshire was not viewed by nationalists as independent before the election, he certainly isn't now.

"We do have the evolving relationship between the Tories and the DUP and that will certainly continue to impact on relations between all the parties here.

"I do think we need some sort of summit to demonstrate that both governments are actually serious about resolving the difficulties at Stormont and we do need an independent mediator there to do it."

Former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Labour's Shaun Woodward, also said that the negotiations had been "complicated" by the Tories deal with the DUP, "if only because of suspicion that they might not be willing to put pressure on the DUP".

He commented: "What I feel would really help now would be a real, honest independent broker, like a George Mitchell."

Also agreeing that new energy is needed, Mr Woodward said: "For very complex reasons, the government has overseen drift happening. Neither side feels they have to move and they are waiting for the other side to move.

"By all, means have a summit. The two governments should be working hand in glove on this. A summit could help but I think what we have to be very clear about is what are the consequences if the summit should fail," he also stated. "What happens if the summit fails. That has to very clearly laid out for people Otherwise, this could drift on and on and on and that would be very bad."

Lord Reg Empey said he that bringing in prime ministers could be a risky strategy.

"We have done it in the past and it has been successful - but you may recall David Cameron came in one evening a couple of years ago  - he found that the situation wasn't sufficiently ready and he scarpered away.

"The prime ministers is basically the last card you can play.

"Sometimes they can make a difference but, if they fail, then you're really in serious difficulty."

Lord Empey also called for all five of the parties in Northern Ireland to be brought together. "Let us not forget that the last time the five parties sat down together at the table was last Tuesday."

Prime ministers should not be brought in until "a lot of pressure" had already been brought to bear on the parties locally, he said.

"We're 19 years past the Belfast agreement, surely we would be showing respect to the people who are on waiting lists and in trouble in all sorts of ways if we were actually sorting things out ourselves instead of having somebody to hold our hand all the time.

"It's only in the last resort that you bring the prime ministers in and, as Shaun Woodward rightly points out, if that fails, we're in serious difficulty."

Belfast Telegraph

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