Wednesday 22 November 2017

Fresh crisis in Stormont as talks to restore power-sharing executive break down

  • Sinn Féin withdraw from talks
  • Deadline of 4pm Monday
  • Charlie Flanagan urges parties to 're-engage'
  • DUP blame Sinn Féin for lack of round table talks
Sinn Fein's leader at Stormont Michelle O'Neill, has said the talks process aimed at restoring devolution in Northern Ireland has run its course (Image: Niall Carson/PA Wire)
Sinn Fein's leader at Stormont Michelle O'Neill, has said the talks process aimed at restoring devolution in Northern Ireland has run its course (Image: Niall Carson/PA Wire)
Sinn Féin leader in the North Michelle O’Neill at St Patrick’s Primary School before casting her vote. Photo: PA Newsdesk Newsdesk

Sinn Fein has said the talks process aimed at restoring devolution in Northern Ireland have "run their course".

The republican party will not be nominating a deputy first minister on Monday, leader at Stormont Michelle O'Neill said, triggering another crisis at Stormont.

However President Gerry Adams said he believed the conditions to go back into power-sharing would be achieved in the time ahead.

Ms O'Neill said: "Today we have come to the end of the road."

Monday is the deadline for nominating a first and deputy first minister at Stormont or else Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire is obliged to intervene.

Fresh elections or direct rule from Westminster could be imposed within a reasonable period.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams

Ms O'Neill added: "The talks process has run its course and Sinn Fein will not be nominating for the position of speaker or for the executive office tomorrow."

Power-sharing collapsed in January after a row over a botched green energy scheme predicted to cost the taxpayer up to half a billion pounds.

Sinn Fein has said it will not share power with the Democratic Unionists' leader Arlene Foster as first minister until a public inquiry into the renewable heat incentive (RHI) is concluded.

Republicans have also been seeking movement on issues like an Irish language act giving the tongue official status in Northern Ireland, a hugely symbolic measure but deeply problematic for some unionists.

They also want to see progress on legacy funding for Northern Ireland conflict victims waiting up to 45 years for answers over how their loved ones died.

Mr Brokenshire is chairing talks in Belfast and said they had a duty to victims to address past violence which left 3,637 dead and countless more injured.

The five main parties only had until 4pm on Monday to resolve their differences or face another snap election.

Sinn Fein have now called time on the current round of negotiations.

Mr Adams said thinking unionism was at a crossroads.

"The DUP cannot be in there representing the DUP voters.

"They have to work with us and any other party in there representing everyone.

"We don't have the basis for doing that, we are not going back to the status quo, but will we be back, will we get the institutions in place? Yes."

He said the terms did not exist now to nominate for a deputy first minister.

"That is today...we do believe that we will have the conditions in the time ahead because we want to be in the institutions."

He said unionists needed to help build a society that respected the rights of everyone.

"That is the big change that has come about and it is amplified in many ways by Martin McGuinness's term in office, you do it for everybody."

DUP leader Arlene Foster accused Sinn Féin of showing no signs of wanting to reach an agreement. 

"While regrettable the reality is that sufficient progress was not achieved in the time available to form a new Executive. The DUP was ready to form a new administration without pre-conditions so as to allow us to have a budget and to deal with the many matters that currently face the people of Northern Ireland," she said.

"Negotiations will only ever be successful when parties are prepared to be flexible in order to secure outcomes. To date there was little to suggest that Sinn Fein want to secure agreement. At every opportunity they have resisted involving the other parties and consequently no round table discussions were possible during this round of discussions. Any future discussions will have to built on a more solid footing.

"Throughout the course of Saturday Sinn Fein behaved as if they were the only participants whose mandate mattered.  This cannot and will not be the basis for a successful outcome.

"The DUP stands ready to continue to discuss how we can secure new arrangements for Northern Ireland," she added.

A voting surge by Sinn Fein in the last Assembly election earlier this month saw the party come within one seat of becoming the biggest party at Stormont behind the DUP.

Mr Brokenshire spoke to Prime Minister Theresa May on Sunday afternoon and said creating a functioning ministerial executive was a priority.

"This is the necessary first step to addressing the issues of greatest public concern, health, education and other public services in Northern Ireland.

"Even at this stage I urge political parties to agree to work to form an Executive and provide people here with the strong and stable devolved government that they want."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood called for space to be created for an agreement to be reached.

“Following talks over the last number of days it is clear now that an agreement will not be reached in the time left. That is a bitter disappointment," he said.

“The clear message from the public after this month’s election was an extreme frustration with the way government worked. After weeks of talks, the DUP clearly hasn't got that message.

“This wasn’t just about RHI, it was about the way people and communities were treated, it was about a respect deficit, it was about an absence of equality. Those who are responsible for creating that poisoned political atmosphere must address it in word and action," he said in a statement.

“There was, and remains, a mandate for creative compromise to form a government. But those who came to the ballot box earlier this month will now be very angry and they are right to be. Their frustration at the failure here cannot be underestimated and it cannot be easily assuaged through more elections.

“We have reached common ground over the last few weeks. But rigid opposition to compromise on key issues, particularly from the DUP, has made a comprehensive resolution more difficult to reach. Our common ground should not be scorched to serve the interests of one party.

In a statement the Ulster Unionist Party criticised the fact that there was no round-table discussion between all five parties.

MP Tom Elliot described the talks as "simply the worst".

"We have engaged in every set of recent negotiations from Haass O'Sullivan to today. This was simply the worst," he said.

“Unless there is a massive u-turn in terms of attitude from the two largest parties, then Northern Ireland could be in for a period of prolonged drift.

”I understand the Secretary of State took the attitude that the blockages to progress were devolved matters and therefore allowed the DUP and Sinn Féin to take the lead, with the  Government offering support. It looks like HM Government will have to take the lead at 4pm tomorrow and that is a further indictment of the lead parties at Stormont."

Additional reporting by Press Association

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