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Local politicians in war of words over Stormont talks breakdown

Thursday, 30 March 2017

THERE has been a war of words between local politicians over the failure to form the Northern Ireland Executive.

On Sunday, Sinn Féin confirmed it would not nominate for the position of Deputy First Minister deepening the crisis at Stormont.

Secretary of State James Brokenshire has now granted parties extra time to come to an agreement stating that a "small window of opportunity" exists for the talks. He has however ruled out a second snap election.

Yesterday (Tuesday), in a speech delivered to the House of Commons he said the UK government will "consider all options" after the Easter recess, including direct rule, if politicians fail to come to a resolution.

Mr Brokenshire said that he would bring legislation to the House of Commons on April 18 - depending on the outcome of the talks. If they are successful, he said he would push forward laws to allow an assembly to be formed.

The talks collapsed on Sunday with deadlock over the Irish Language Act and legacy issues being the main bones of contention.

Amid the political instability at Stormont, Brexit also looms large. The process of the UK's withdrawal from the European Union (EU) will be formally triggered today (Wednesday), when Prime Minister Theresa May invokes Article 50.

This week the DUP's Tom Buchanan hit out at what he claimed is Sinn Féin's failure to make things work. Sinn Féin on the other hand has warned there could be no return to the status quo and accused the DUP of hardly engaging on the key issues.

Mr Buchanan said it was regrettable that not only did Sinn Féin walk away from the previous Executive some 10 months into the mandate but they had also walked away from the negotiations aimed at forming a new Executive.

"With no indication that they are serious about forming a new Executive their excuses ring hollow across Northern Ireland with no Executive and no budget to deal with the many pressing issues facing the people.

"No budget has high implications for our health service where waiting lists will continue to spiral out of control and with our education service under severe pressure and our community and voluntary sector facing meltdown due to a lack of finance and uncertainty it is time for Sinn Féin to face up to their responsibilities, putting the people of Northern Ireland in front of party," he said.

He added the DUP stood ready to continue discussions on new arrangements for Northern Ireland's future and warned any future negotiations would have to be based on a more solid footing.

"The people must hold Sinn Féin to account for their blatant failure and refusal to not only involve the other parties in round table discussions and lack of commitment to a future administration for Northern Ireland."

However, Strabane-based Sinn Féin MLA., Michaela Boyle, said the party is intent on honouring its mandate but will not allow the DUP to ignore the big issues including the pre-election scandal surrounding RHI.

"Given previous bad faith from the DUP and British government, is anyone realistically expecting Sinn Fein to nominate in the absence of an agreed implementation timetable on previously agreed deals or without movement on other key equality issues?

"The DUP think that it's just a case of picking up where they left off pre-election seeking to ignore the fallout from the RHI scandal and the results of the election which have given a resounding mandate for progressive change and a mandate for parties to rebuild public confidence and trust in the institutions and to fully implement outstanding issues of equality and rights," she said.

She said concerns also existed over the British government's part in the talks: "The British government is not some sort of independent broker in this process. The British government is a player and part of the problem. Their approach in the talks has also meant that no agreement was possible.

"So neither can James Brokenshire wash his hands of the British government's responsibilities and obligations to implement the commitments it made in previous agreements. Sinn Féin is still intent on honouring its mandate and agreements made. We want to see the institutions restored but when we said there will be no return to the status quo we meant it," she said.

Elsewhere, the SDLP's Daniel McCrossan said the power-sharing institutions are now "hanging by a thread" and the current impasse is already having massive repercussions here.

"These talks failed as the DUP has shown no regret over the botched RHI scheme and they have been completely lacking in accommodating nationalism - whether through an Irish Language Act or in dealing with the past. The DUP has misread public mood and they simply cannot expect everyone else to walk into government without any pre-conditions," he said.

"It's now up to the Secretary of State to constructively engage with all political parties and to facilitate round table discussions as a matter of urgency to obtain a comprehensive agreement on all outstanding issues, including Europe. It is my great concern that Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty will be triggered yet the North has no common position on 1; the border, 2; free trade or 3; common travel area. This is where the average person will feel the impact of a failed Executive, especially on the border.

"People voted earlier this month for power-sharing, there can be no direct rule from Westminster. People want delivery, not civil servants cutting budgets, Tories triggering Brexit or setting the regional rate which are all against the will of the people here."

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