Thursday 14 December 2017

Sinn Fein and DUP agree powersharing can be done by the end of June

A Sinn Fein delegation led by leader Gerry Adams along with leader in the North Michelle O'Neill (left) deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald and MP Michelle Gildernew (right) arrive at Government Buildings in Dublin for a meeting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Brian Lawless/PA Wire
A Sinn Fein delegation led by leader Gerry Adams along with leader in the North Michelle O'Neill (left) deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald and MP Michelle Gildernew (right) arrive at Government Buildings in Dublin for a meeting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Brian Hutton

Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionists both agree a deal to restore a powersharing administration in Northern Ireland can be done by the end of the month.

But speaking in Dublin after a meeting with the new Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, the DUP leader Arlene Foster said it was down to Sinn Fein whether an agreement is reached.

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

Northern Ireland has been without a powersharing executive since March and without a first and deputy first minister since January, after Sinn Fein collapsed the administration amid faltering trust and relations with the DUP.

Talks to restore confidence took a back seat in recent days as the political focus largely shifted to London and the DUP's deal to prop up the Conservatives at Westminster.

But Stormont parties have a June 29 deadline to end the impasse and reach consensus on re-establishing a devolved administration in the region.

"We want to see an administration set up again that will last and one that will last for all of the people of Northern Ireland," said Ms Foster outside Dublin's Government Buildings.

"We will go in to speak with Sinn Fein again on Monday morning to try and get that set up as quickly as possible , because devolution works and works for everybody in Northern Ireland."

Ms Foster said the talks deadline remained "realistic".

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

Also in Dublin for a meeting with Mr Varadkar, Sinn Fein Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill voiced her optimism that a deal was "doable".

"We remain fully committed to making the institutions work," she said.

"We also respect the other parties' mandates, we want to get back to an executive that has all the parties around the table to collectively take decisions.

"I think it is all very doable."

Gerry Adams led a delegation to Government Buildings including Ms O'Neill, Sinn Fein deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald and newly-elected Fermanagh South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew.

Mr Adams said they would be pushing Mr Varadkar to raise the prospect of a border poll on Irish reunification within the next five years in discussions with the British government.

On his talks in London with Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday, he said they had offered an "Irish solution to an English problem" as giving Northern Ireland special EU status after Brexit to keep an open border on the island.

"We made the case to her that we would oppose any deal that undermined the Good Friday Agreement," he said.

Ms Foster dismissed suggestions her deal with the Tories threatened the peace process.

"There is an irony to being lectured by some about our role in the national government of the United Kingdom when Sinn Fein want to be in government here in the Republic of Ireland," she said.

"What would happen then? Would we then say they shouldn't be in government in the Republic? They can't have it both ways, it has to be dealt with sensibly," she said.

On Brexit, Ms Foster said her party wanted to see "a sensible Brexit and one that works for everybody."

The former Northern Ireland First Minister said her meeting with Mr Varadkar was very good and that she was looking forward to a very positive relationship with the Irish premier.

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

Press Association

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