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The Sinn Féin team in Westminster today.
The Sinn Féin team in Westminster today.
Image: Kirsty O'Connor/PA Images

Mary Lou McDonald wasn't impressed after meeting Theresa May in London

The new Sinn Féin leader says the British Prime Minister has ‘no plan’.
Feb 21st 2018, 6:42 PM 47,844 87

AFTER MEETING TODAY with British Prime Minister Theresa May in London, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has said that the British government “doesn’t have a plan” to deal with the ongoing deadlock at Stormont.

McDonald said her party are “disappointed” that the British government favours a “reflection period”, adding that she feels such a wait could be “extremely dangerous” for hopes of a breakthrough.

A spokesperson for 10 Downing Street said that May impressed on both the DUP and Sinn Féin in separate meetings today that the parties should “reflect” on the situation.

Last Wednesday, DUP leader Arlene Foster collapsed talks on the restoration of power-sharing in Stormont and blamed an inability to find common ground on the issue of the Irish language.

Sinn Féin has said that the basis for a deal was agreed between the parties but that the DUP would not follow through on it.

Speaking to reporters in Westminster this evening, McDonald said she feels the Irish and British governments need to convene talks to ensure progress is not lost.

“I have to tell you that we can only surmise from the meeting with the British Prime Minister that the government here doesn’t have a plan. Doesn’t have a viable plan for carving a pathway to the restoration of the institutions.”

We’re disappointed that the government seems wedded to what it calls a reflection period. We regard the opening up of a political vacuum as extremely dangerous.

“We have reiterated our call for the convening of the intergovernmental conference as per the Good Friday Agreement,” she added.

Asked why stalling further talks would be dangerous, McDonald said she felt it would harden positions:

I fear drift, I fear entrenchment, I fear that those elements who were clearly never really up for a deal actually dig their heels in further and are further emboldened by delay. There comes a moment in political life to call things and we’re at a point to make a decision.

“Just because the DUP has crashed the bus, it doesn’t mean that everybody has to sit at home now, cross their fingers and hope against hope that things will improve,” she added.

The DUP has said that it does not favour direct rule from London but is calling for the UK government to start making decisions on an “interim” basis.

The DUP’s leadership was also meeting the British Prime Minister today.

“In the absence of the devolution that we all want, we can’t continue to have Northern Ireland left in limbo as it’s been for the last 13 months, we need decisions taken on waiting lists, on health, on mental health, on housing and on education,” the DUP’s Nigel Dodds MP said today.

In the absence of the devolution that we all want, we can’t continue to have Northern Ireland left in limbo as it’s been for the last 13 months, we need decisions taken on waiting lists, on health on mental health on housing and on education.
Following today’s meetings, Downing Street acknowledged that it has “a responsibility to ensure the continued delivery of public services in Northern Ireland.”

Stormont powersharing talks The DUP's Nigel Dodds MP and Arlene Foster MLA in London. Source: Yui Mok/PA Images

In her outline of how discussions went with the British Prime Minister, Mary Lou McDonald said citizens in Northern Ireland must have the same rights as those in the rest of Britain and Ireland.

“Both governments need to work to ensure that citizens in the north enjoy the same rights as citizens all across these islands of marriage equality, for language rights to ensure the legacy funding is not withheld as some kind of bargaining chip in this process,” she said.

Sinn Féin’s leader in Northern Ireland Michelle O’Neill MLA claimed that all parties to the talks, including the DUP, know that the basis for a deal was agreed.

“The British Prime Minister, who the DUP are here talking to today, came and visited last Monday and said there was the basis of a deal. The Irish government said there was the basis of a deal and indeed the DUP were briefing that there was the basis of a deal. We’re crystal clear that we had a way forward,” O’Neill told reporters.

In a briefing to the media on the content of today’s meetings, a spokesperson for 10 Downing Street said May told both parties that devolution remains the best option.

“In both meetings, she said 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,” the spokesperson said.

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. ”

Read: ’A standstill is completely unacceptable’: Sinn Féin to meet Varadkar and May over Stormont deadlock >

Explainer: Why UK Brexiteers have been told to ‘sod off’ away from the Good Friday Agreement >

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Rónán Duffy


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