Powersharing 'only way forward' for North, says Taoiseach

Update 7pm: The Taoiseach says he regrets today's statement from the DUP that there is “no prospect” of a return to devolved government at Stormont.

It follows more than a year of efforts to restore government in Belfast.

"I very much regret the statement from the DUP," said Leo Varadkar.

"Powersharing 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."

Update 6.10pm: Collapse of Stormont talks 'very disappointing' says Tanaiste

The Tánaiste says the collapse of talks in the North is deeply disappointing.

Tánaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney says he remains in close contact with the Northern Irish Secretary of State on the issue.

"The announcement from the DUP is clearly very disappointing," he said.

"The Secretary of State and I have spoken and will remain in close contact and I am briefing the Taoiseach on developments."

Simon Coveney also says both governments will need to reflect on how to best uphold the Good Friday Agreement.

"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."

The DUP say there's no prospect of a deal with a large impasse remaining between them and Sinn Féin.

The leader of Sinn Féin in the North says the party had an accommodation on the issues with the DUP.

Michelle O'Neill says they will speak to both governments on where to go from here.

She added the issues will not go away.

"We needed to see an Irish Language act, we needed to see marriage rights, we needed to see legacy inquest rights, all the issues which are available, rights that are affordable," she said.

"It's very reasonable what we're asking for. It's rights for all citizens, it's good government, it's equality, it's respect, it's integrity in government, that's what we set out to achieve.

"That's what we believe we had an accommodation on, on the whole range of all of those issues and the DUP leadership have failed to close on that accommoation."

Earlier 4.14pm: Arlene Foster sees 'no prospect' of Stormont government due to 'significant' disagreement over Irish Language Act

DUP leader Arlene Foster has announced that there is “no prospect” of a return to devolved government at Stormont.

It follows more than a year of efforts to restore government in Belfast.

In a statement, which has effectively torpedoed talks aimed at ending the 13-month impasse at Stormont, Mrs Foster said attempts to find a stable and sustainable resolution had been unsuccessful.

Mrs Foster said: “For almost four weeks, we have been engaged in intensive negotiations with Sinn Féin. We have attempted to find a stable and sustainable basis for restoring devolution. Those discussions have been unsuccessful.

“Despite our best efforts, serious and significant gaps remain between ourselves and Sinn Féin especially on the issue of the Irish language.

“I have made it consistently clear that unionists will not countenance a stand-alone or free-standing Irish Language Act. Sinn Féin's insistence on a stand-alone Irish Language Act means that we have reached an impasse.

“As far back as last summer, I outlined my party’s willingness to reach an accommodation on language and cultural issues. However, I indicated that any such accommodation must be fair, balanced and capable of commanding support on all sides of our community. At the moment, we do not have a fair and balanced package.

"After the Assembly election, I embarked on an engagement exercise with those who love and cherish the Irish language. I respect the Irish language and those who speak it but in a shared society this cannot be a one-way street. Respect for the unionist and British identity has not been reciprocated.

“In our view, there is no current prospect of these discussions leading to an Executive being formed.

“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. I had dearly hoped that we could have restored an Executive and local Ministers could have taken those decisions. That is not possible at this time. Northern Ireland is best governed by local Ministers who are accountable to local people.

“Restoring a sustainable and fully functioning devolved government will remain our goal but we will not accept a one-sided deal.

“Any agreement to restore the Executive must be on a sensible basis. We cannot and will not be held to ransom by those who have refused to form an Executive for over thirteen months.”

On Monday Taoiseach Leo Varadakar and the UK Prime Minister Theresa May travelled to Stormont to encourage the region's parties to finally end the deadlock that has left the North without a functioning government since last January.

Mrs May urged them to make "one final push" to strike a deal to salvage powersharing.

Afterwards, Mrs Foster said while the leaders were welcome, their presence proved a "bit of a distraction" as it interrupted negotiations. The DUP leader said the governments had been told in advance of their trip that "the deal wasn't done".

Her statement continued: "I have made it consistently clear that unionists will not countenance a stand alone or free standing Irish Language Act. Sinn Fein's insistence on a stand alone Irish Language Act means that we have reached an impasse.

"As far back as last summer, I outlined my party's willingness to reach an accommodation on language and cultural issues. However, I indicated that any such accommodation must be fair, balanced and capable of commanding support on all sides of our community. At the moment, we do not have a fair and balanced package."

Respect for the unionist and British identity had "not been reciprocated", she claimed.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood expressed anger and disappointment at the statement.

Colum Eastwood

He said: "We have to get back to working together. We have to not allow this moment to be the destruction of all that we have achieved."

He said: "Equally we can't allow this British government or this DUP to think that they are going to govern Northern Ireland on their own. That cannot be allowed to happen.

"The spirit which underpins the Good Friday Agreement is one that recognises we have two communities here, two nationalities, two sets of allegiances and we have to have that recognised in anything that goes after this."

Mr Eastwood said they would be making it clear to "anyone who will listen" that it could not be the "DUP having the whip hand".

The SDLP leader warned that if the institutions fall, it would be "very, very difficult" to get them back up and running.

"It's easy to pull this place down. It's not that easy to put it back together again."

He was also hugely critical of the British government's handling of the political crisis.

Mr Eastwood added: "They have allowed two parties to have complete cover, to have complete control over this process, they have not involved anybody else, it hasn't been transparent.

- PA

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