THE DUP AND Sinn Féin are blaming each other, after the latest attempt to restore power sharing in Northern Ireland spluttered to a halt yesterday.
In the wake of this month’s election, a deadline of 4pm today had been set for the nomination by the two largest parties of a First Minister and Deputy First Minister.
However, today’s Assembly meeting to carry out that process has been cancelled.
Northern Ireland Secretary of State James Brokenshire now faces three choices. He can either:
- Play for more time, in the hope that a deal can be reached
- Re-impose direct rule from Westminster
- Call fresh elections
Some commentators in the North think both the DUP and Sinn Féin may want another election: the UUP – the main rival unionist party – is currently without a leader, and Sinn Féin may be hoping for an increase in support, in the wake of the death of Martin McGuinness and in-depth coverage and analysis of his role in the peace process.
However, with Brexit looming large, it’s unlikely the electorate will relish a third election in the space of 12 months.
The DUP didn’t show up for talks yesterday, and Sinn Féin called a halt to the process yesterday afternoon, with Gerry Adams taking aim at the unionists for failing to move on a range of issues.
“The DUP’s approach thus far has been to engage in a minimalist way on all of the key issues, including legacy issues; an Irish Language Act; a Bill of Rights; and marriage equality,” Adams said.
DUP leader Arlene Foster insisted that there was “little to suggest” that Sinn Féin wanted to secure an agreement.
Throughout the course of Saturday Sinn Fein behaved as if they were the only participants whose mandate mattered. This cannot and will not be the basis for a successful outcome.
Sinn Féin has previously said it would not agree to Foster being First Minister until an inquiry into the ‘cash for ash’ controversy has concluded.
However, the DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson told the BBC that the republican party had not raised the issue of Foster’s position during talks so far.
Mary Lou McDonald, the Sinn Féin deputy leader, insisted this morning that her party had not ‘walked out’ or ‘pulled the plug’ on talks, saying the negotiating team had simply come out yesterday to give an update on their position.
“There is no option available to any of us but to arrive at an agreement,” she told Morning Ireland today – saying it was time for the DUP, the SDLP and other parties to “wake up and smell the coffee”.
The DUP haven’t commented on why they weren’t at yesterday’s talks.
There’s been speculation they declined to show up due to strict religious views within the party about working on a Sunday (the party has its roots in Ian Paisley’s Free Presbyterian Church). In her statement, Foster indicated her party’s mind had been made up after Saturday’s proceedings went badly.
Sinn Féin finished with 27 seats in the wake of this month’s election, which arose after the party called time on the last power-sharing arrangement due to Foster’s stance on the ‘cash for ash’ controversy.
The DUP remain the largest party – but only just – with 28 seats. The SDLP have 12 seats, the UUP 10 and the Alliance eight. The remaining five seats are divided between the Greens (2), smaller parties and independents.
Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan has urged both parties to return to the talks table.
“This is a critical time for Northern Ireland,” he said. “We are on the cusp of the triggering of Article 50 by the UK Government.”