Sinn Féin warns against drift in Northern Ireland powersharing talks

Sinn Féin has accused the British Government of having no viable plan for restoring Northern Ireland powersharing.

Leader Mary Lou McDonald feared "entrenchment and drift" in efforts to resurrect devolved institutions at Stormont which collapsed 13 months ago.

Sinn Fein's vice president Michelle O'Neill (right) and Sinn Fein's president Mary Lou McDonald (centre) and Conor Murphy (left) speaking to the media on College Green in Westminster, London. Pic: Kirsty O'Connor/PA Wire

She accused the Government of engaging in a period of reflection which could create a dangerous political vacuum and reiterated calls for an intergovernmental conference including Dublin.

Republicans and their former Stormont coalition partners the DUP held separate meetings with the British Prime Minister at the House of Commons today.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said the Government should act quickly to pass a budget for public services and added she had not contemplated an Irish language act which is at the heart of the 13-month stand-off.

Ms McDonald said: "We can only surmise from the meeting with the British Prime Minister that the Government does not have a plan, there is not a viable plan for carving a path to the restoration of the institutions."

She said she was disappointed that a period of reflection had begun.

"Any political vacuum is extremely dangerous."

She added: "I fear drift, i fear entrenchment, I fear that those elements who were likely never really up for a deal will dig their heels in further and are further emboldened.

"We are at a moment of decision."

Ms Foster said the Democratic Unionists had not contemplating introducing an Irish language act in Northern Ireland ahead of last week's failure of negotiations with Sinn Féin.

The DUP chief said a leaked document on talks with Sinn Féin was only one of a number circulated.

Broadcaster Eamonn Mallie published on his website a 13-page draft which confirms proposals for Irish and Ulster Scots language commissioners and a central translation unit at Stormont.

Ms Foster said: "We were not contemplating bringing in an Irish language act and I could not be clearer in relation to that.

"If you look at the so-called draft agreement that is only one of a number of documents that were circulated and put out and about, and I think the important thing is that we now reflect on where we got to in relation to all of those issues, we have a budget put in place, I think that is important for the people of Northern Ireland and that we move forward."

DUP leader Arlene Foster and deputy leader Nigel Dodds speaking to the media on College Green in Westminster, London. Pic: Yui Mok/PA Wire

She expressed concern about the lack of proper governance in Northern Ireland and again urged Theresa May to introduce a budget for public services.

"I think she heard that very loud and clear.

"I'm hopeful that it will happen in weeks, and that it will set out the trajectory for public services in Northern Ireland."

It has been 13 months since the devolved institutions at Stormont collapsed in a row over a botched green energy scheme which quickly expanded to include differences over identity and the Irish language.

Months of inter-party negotiations since then have failed to produce a breakthrough, although the British Government has said progress has been made.

Hopes of a deal last week foundered over the issue of an Irish language act giving official protection to the tongue.

A Downing Street spokesman said Theresa May believed it was important for everyone to reflect on the circumstances which have led to this and their positions, so a way forward could be found to restore an Executive.

"She made clear how the UK Government remains steadfast in its commitment to the Belfast Agreement and its successors and reiterated that devolved Government is in the best interests of the people in Northern Ireland.

"On next steps, she set out how the Northern Ireland Secretary would continue to work intensively with the parties on the basis for an agreement.

"The Prime Minister also made clear how challenging decisions lay ahead as the UK Government has a responsibility to ensure the continued delivery of public services in Northern Ireland.

"On the weeks ahead, she said she will be working closely with the Northern Ireland Secretary and will continue to engage with the parties and the Irish Government."


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