Sunday 8 December 2019

DUP urges London to take control as Stormont talks implode

Democratic Unionist leader Arlene Foster
Democratic Unionist leader Arlene Foster

Lesley-Anne McKeown

There is no prospect of Stormont's main parties agreeing to restore devolved government, the DUP said as it called on Britain to take further financial control of the North.

The breakdown of talks aimed at restoring power-sharing in Northern Ireland sparked anger, disappointment and frustration.

The British government now faces the prospect of having to step in and take previously devolved decisions in Northern Ireland.

But the Irish Government, as co-guarantor of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, has said there can be no return to the direct rule of the period before that landmark accord.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said in a statement: "I very much regret the statement from the DUP. Power-sharing and working together are the only way forward for Northern Ireland.

"The Tánaiste and the Secretary of State are in close contact and we will continue to confer with the British government about the next steps."

Tánaiste Simon Coveney last night described the announcement from the DUP as "very disappointing".

He has held phone talks with Secretary of State Karen Bradley and briefed the Taoiseach on developments.

"As co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement, the UK and Irish governments have an obligation to uphold and protect the letter and spirit of that agreement.

"We will need to reflect in the coming days on how best to do that," he said

The talks ended in acrimony as DUP leader Arlene Foster said there was no current prospect of restoring devolved government - after failing to clinch agreement on touchstone issues such as treatment of the Irish language.

Sinn Féin's Northern Ireland leader Michelle O'Neill said that the party had stretched itself, and blamed the DUP for collapsing a process aimed at rebuilding coalition government at Stormont after a 13-month suspension.

Her party wants an Irish Language Act - but the DUP has long insisted it would only countenance new laws if they also incorporate other cultures, such as Ulster Scots.

Ms Foster said attempts to find a stable and sustainable resolution had been unsuccessful.

"We cannot and will not be held to ransom by those who have refused to form an executive for over 13 months," she said.

"It is now incumbent upon her majesty's government to set a budget and start making policy decisions about our schools, hospitals and infrastructure.

"Important decisions impacting on everyone in Northern Ireland have been sitting in limbo for too long."

Months of exhaustive talks have been held since power-sharing collapsed early last year in a row over the DUP's handling of a botched green energy scheme.

Since then, divisions over issues including Irish language rights, same-sex marriage and how to deal with the legacy of Northern Ireland's troubled past have proved insurmountable.

The implosion last night came despite Monday's last-minute intervention by UK Prime Minister Theresa May and Mr Varadkar, who travelled to Stormont for talks with the parties.

Northern Ireland Secretary Ms Bradley yesterday said that "substantive progress" had been made.

But she conceded "this phase of talks has reached a conclusion".

Irish Independent

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