Prospect of imminent devolution return looks bleak

Posted By: September 02, 2017

John Manley. Irish News. Belfast. Saturday, September 2, 2017

THE prospects of an imminent return to devolution looked bleak last night after Sinn Féin flatly rejected DUP proposals for restoring an executive.

Sinn Féin northern leader Michelle O’Neill said there was nothing new in Arlene Foster’s speech to her party’s executive on Thursday night.

While many, including the Dublin government’s foreign affairs minister, cast Mrs. Foster’s speech as conciliatory, Republicans said it had failed to address the cause of Stormont’s collapse and SDLP leader Colum Eastwood was also dismissive.

Mrs. Foster described her plan to appoint Stormont ministers and initiate a time-limited process for addressing “culture and language issues” as a “common-sense solution” to break the deadlock that has prevailed since March’s election.

The former first minister told a DUP executive meeting in Belfast that her party had “nothing to fear from the Irish language”.

“We have previously supported practical measures for the Irish language and we will do so again if we can reach a wider agreement on these matters,” she said.

“However what we cannot and will not do is simply agree to one-sided demands.”

But Ms. O’Neill said the “parallel process” being proposed had been discussed previously in the negotiations and subsequently “disregarded”.

She said unionists had still not acknowledged the reasons for former deputy first minister Martin McGuinness’ resignation in January.

“Establishing an executive that may collapse after a matter of months on the same issues will only fail all our people,” she said.

“Let’s agree to quickly conclude talks on implementation and rights, that is the only way to build a sustainable executive that will last.”

Mr. Eastwood also said agreement on an Irish language act could be secured at negotiations rather than during a time-limited parallel process.

“Time is not the issue, a critical lack of political generosity is,” he said.

“There is an emerging battle to shift blame rather than proposing credible solutions.”

The Irish minister for foreign affairs Simon Coveney tweeted that Mrs. Foster’s intervention was a “genuine effort to show leadership and reach out towards compromise”.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said that while his party supported an Irish language act, he did not believe it should be used as a “political pawn”.

“The consequences of a stagnant Stormont are too serious for knee jerk reactions,” he said.

“The challenges posed by Brexit cannot be underestimated and it is in the interest of all the citizens in the north that Stormont is reconvened as a matter of urgency.”

But Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said his Fianna Fáil counterpart’s remarks were disappointing.

“Teachta Martin has never failed to use difficulties with the political process in the north to attack Sinn Féin – he conveniently forgets the calls he repeatedly made, not so long ago, for the assembly to be suspended,” he said.

Talks aimed at restoring an executive were expected to begin next week. However, given the tone of the exchanges between the two main protagonists, this now appears doubtful.

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann acknowledged the DUP’s proposal to restore the Executive but said that in light of Sinn Féin’s “intransigence” other options should be explored.

“If Sinn Féin and the DUP can no longer work together then other alternatives should be explored to ensure that Northern Ireland is governed by Northern Ireland politicians,” he said.

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry called on the DUP and Sinn Féin to show “greater realism and flexibility”.

“We have challenged them to energize the talks process and to make important statements to help build mutual confidence,” he said.