Tuesday 22 August 2017

Parties given more time to end deadlock in the North

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

David Young

Stormont's political leaders have been given yet more time to resolve their differences and restore devolved government in Northern Ireland.

Secretary of State James Brokenshire said the UK government remained focused over the "crucial days ahead" on establishing a coalition executive, despite a deadline for agreement lapsing last week.

Mr Brokenshire's warning of "profound and serious implications" if Thursday's deadline was missed prompted speculation he could call another snap election or impose some form of direct rule from Westminster.

In his statement to MPs yesterday, Mr Brokenshire opted to allow talks at Stormont Castle to continue, expressing hope a deal could still be struck in the week ahead.

"I am clear that the return of an inclusive, devolved government by a power-sharing executive is what would be profoundly in the best interests of Northern Ireland and that will remain our overriding focus in the crucial days ahead," he said.

His optimism was not mirrored at Stormont, where the DUP and Sinn Féin gave a downbeat assessment, blaming each other for the impasse.

Sticking points include the shape of legislation to protect Irish language speakers, the DUP's opposition to lifting the region's ban on same-sex marriage, and mechanisms to deal with the legacy of the Troubles.

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While he did not set a new deadline, Mr Brokenshire warned he would soon have to step in to pass a Stormont budget. "That point is coming and the lack of a formal budget is not something that can be sustained indefinitely," he said.

DUP leader Arlene Foster claimed Sinn Féin was more concerned with adding to its "shopping list" of demands rather than seeking compromises to restore power-sharing.

Mrs Foster said her party wanted to see devolution restored but was not prepared to agree to a one-sided deal that would leave the unionist community feeling "short-changed".

"Sinn Féin has a shopping list, a shopping list that seems to get longer every time we meet with them," she said.

Sinn Féin's Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill said her party was seeking "basic rights". "If that's a shopping list then I am very proud of that shopping list - because it's about delivering people their rights," she said.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney urged the parties to "stretch themselves" to find a deal. "The key issues to be resolved will be no easier in the autumn than they are now. Indeed, with the passage of time, they may become more intractable as the hiatus in governance increasingly impacts on the welfare of citizens."

Irish Independent

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