Tuesday 26 September 2017

Fresh government hopes of restoring Northern Assembly

DUP leader Arlene Foster
DUP leader Arlene Foster
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

The Government believes there are fresh hopes of reaching an agreement between the two main political parties in the North and restoring the power-sharing executive after months of deadlock.

Despite public grandstanding by Sinn Fein after the Democratic Unionist Party's (DUP) offer of an olive branch on the Irish language act last week, government sources say Gerry Adams's party is willing to reach a compromise.

Last week, DUP leader Arlene Foster suggested restoring the Northern Ireland Assembly and creating new cultural laws to appease Sinn Fein demands on the Irish language. In a speech, Ms Foster told unionists they do not need to fear the Irish language which was seen as softening of her position.

Sinn Fein publicly dismissed the proposal and insisted they will only return to power sharing if an Irish Language Act is signed into law.

"What Foster offered won't fly but it was an effort on her part to reach a compromise," a Government source said.

"Privately, Sinn Fein are thinking about how they can make it work," the source added.

Meanwhile, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney yesterday praised Ms Foster for seeking to move forward with the negotiations.

"I think that Arlene Foster's speech was a genuine effort to finding compromise," he told the Sunday Independent.

"Her proposal in its entirety isn't going to be the solution. It is the first time a DUP leader has said they would legislate to promote the Irish language. It's the first time a DUP leader has said the Irish language is not a threat to unionism," he added.

Mr Coveney will hold talks with all the parties in the North on Tuesday with a hope of making progress on restoring the Assembly which was dissolved by former Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness last year.

Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire is expected to meet the parties tomorrow.

The Assembly was collapsed amid controversy over a renewable energy scheme which it was claimed would cost the Northern Ireland taxpayer hundreds of millions of pounds due to a flaw in the legislation.

Sinn Fein demanded that Ms Foster stand aside as First Minister while an investigation established who was responsible for the botched publicly funded scheme.

The parties have been unable to reach compromise on a number of issues around the so called 'cash for ash' controversy throughout the Assembly talks.

Issues around Irish language and marriage equality have also proved controversial as they have sought to reach an agreement.

Several deadlines for concluding the talks have been missed and the threat of direct rule from Britain hangs over Northern Ireland if a compromise cannot be reached soon.

The DUP is anxious to get the Assembly back up after it secured an additional €1bn in funding for the North after the party agreed to support the British Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative Party Government.

Sunday Independent

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