Tuesday 20 March 2018

Foster calls on Sinn Féin 'to tango' with DUP in talks

Leo Varadkar with Sinn Féin leader in the North Michelle O'Neill Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Leo Varadkar with Sinn Féin leader in the North Michelle O'Neill Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
John Downing

John Downing

Arlene Foster has challenged Sinn Féin to meet the June 29 deadline to restore a power-sharing government in the North.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader was speaking after her first meeting with the new Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, at Government Buildings in Dublin.

Mrs Foster said she thought it was "very realistic" that a deal can be reached on power-sharing in Northern Ireland by the end of this month.

"The issues that have to be dealt with have been talked about now for quite a period of time," she said.

Mrs Foster said the meeting with Mr Varadkar was useful and pleasant.

"We know each other and we understand each other," she said.

The pair got to know each other when they were each responsible for tourism policy as ministers.

"I want us to have a good working relationship so that from his jurisdiction and my jurisdiction we can work together for the good of all our people," she added.

Mrs Foster pointed out that the Belfast government had been out of office since January. Since then there had been Assembly elections in March, followed by a series of negotiations, and then the British general election on June 8, which was again followed by talks on the DUP supporting the Conservative minority government in London.

"So I think it is very much doable to have a deal by the end of this month," she concluded.

But the DUP leader insisted it was now down to Sinn Féin whether an agreement is done.

"It takes two to tango and we're ready to dance," she said.

"We will go into speak with Sinn Féin again on Monday morning because devolution works and works for everybody in Northern Ireland," she said emphatically.

The British government has set a deadline of June 29 for an agreement on power-sharing. Failing that it must consider the introduction of direct rule from Westminster, or the more unlikely option of new Assembly elections for the North.

The DUP, under Mrs Foster, is close to striking a deal with the Conservatives that would allow a beleaguered Theresa May to form a minority government in London. In Dublin, Mrs Foster brushed aside Sinn Féin assertions that DUP support for the British Government compromises the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

"There is an irony to being lectured about our role in terms of the national government of the United Kingdom when Sinn Féin wants to be in government here in the Republic of Ireland. What would happen then?" she asked.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams also led a party delegation including its leader in the North, Michelle O'Neill, for a first meeting on Northern Ireland with the new Taoiseach.

Mr Adams said he was pushing the Taoiseach to raise the prospects with London of a border poll within five years on the future of the North and prospective Irish re-unification.

On Brexit, Mrs Foster said the DUP wanted to see "a sensible Brexit and one that works for everybody."

Talks with Mrs May would continue into next week.

Irish Independent

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