'No current prospect' of forming executive in Northern Ireland - Arlene Foster

Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill has blamed the DUP for failing to close a deal

'No current prospect' of forming executive in Northern Ireland - Arlene Foster

Arlene Foster. Photo: RollingNews.ie

Updated 19.20

Talks to restore power-sharing in Northern Ireland have broken down.

It was confirmed by DUP leader Arlene Foster, who said this afternoon that discussions with Sinn Féin had been "unsuccessful".

She said in a statement: "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.

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

She added: "In our view, there is no current prospect of these discussions leading to an Executive being formed.

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

She has now asked the British government to set a budget and start making policy decisions about Northern Irish "schools, hospitals and infrastructure".

Reaction

Michelle O'Neill, Sinn Féin's leader in the North, insisted her party "had a way forward on all the issues", and blamed DUP leadership for failing to close on a deal.

She said that an 'accommodation' with the unionist party's leadership on issues such as the Irish language act and marriage rights.

Michelle O'Neill Picture by: Brian Lawless/PA Wire/PA Images

Ms O'Neill told reporters: "Whether it's today, tomorrow, one month, two months, six months down the line... we have to resolve these issues if we're going to restore these institutions.

"The conversation now has to be had with both governments in terms of where we go from here."

She added: “We had reached an accommodation with the leadership of the DUP. The DUP failed to close the deal. They have now collapsed this process."

The Tánaiste said the collapse of talks in Northern Ireland is deeply disappointing.

Simon Coveney says he remains in close contact with the Northern Irish Secretary of State on the issue.

The Foreign Affair Ministers also argued that both governments will need to reflect on how to best uphold the Good Friday Agreement.

In a statement, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: "I very much regret the statement from the DUP. Power sharing 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."

The UK's Northern Secretary Karen Bradley, meanwhile, said that the British government is 'ready to bring forward legislation to enable an Executive to be formed'.

'Issues of identity'

Sinn Fein's finance spokesperson, Pearse Doherty, said Ms Foster's decision is unfortunate.

Speaking on the Hard Shoulder, Deputy Doherty said: "We've been engaging with the party - there has been progress made.

"There are issues of basic rights, there are issues of identity, there are issues that are accepted on both islands."

He added: "When you provide rights to a section of society, that doesn't diminish the rights of anybody else.

"Irish language rights shouldn't threaten the unionist identity... it shouldn't do that."

The latest round of talks were the latest attempt to resolve an almost year-long struggle to restore power-sharing at Stormont, with several rounds of negotiations since elections last March.

Northern Ireland has been without a power-sharing government since the collapse of the Stormont Executive in January 2017, amid a scandal over a botched renewable heat scheme.

The issue of Irish language legislation has frequently been highlighted as an obstacle in negotiations, with Sinn Féin calling for a stand-alone act as part of any deal to restore the institutions.

Additional reporting by Sean Defoe