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Dublin: 5°C Friday 25 September 2020

Michelle O'Neill says it's up to UK and Ireland to ensure Stormont Assembly is 'sustainable'

Three years to the day since the collapse of the Assembly, the Sinn Féin leader in the North said talks are still “a work in progress”.

DUP leader Arlene Foster and Sinn Féin leader in the North Michelle O'Neill speak to the media in Stormont.
DUP leader Arlene Foster and Sinn Féin leader in the North Michelle O'Neill speak to the media in Stormont.
Image: PA Images/Photojoiner

THE LEADER OF Sinn Féin in the North has said that it’s up to the British and Irish governments to ensure that the Northern Ireland Assembly is “rights-based and sustainable”, as talks to revive Stormont continued late into the night yesterday.

The UK and Irish governments had been hopeful that a breakthrough in talks to restore the Stormont Assembly, which first collapsed this day three years ago, would be reached this week ahead of next Monday’s deadline.

Previous talks between the DUP and Sinn Féin have collapsed over the past three years; although the substance of the talks remains secret, it’s rumoured that the remaining stumbling talks include Sinn Féin’s request for an Irish Language Act.

This afternoon, Sinn Féin vice-president Michelle O’Neill said her party was at Stormont to “do the business”.

The talks process was initiated by the two governments. It is their responsibility to ensure a power-sharing Assembly is rights-based and sustainable.
It has to take account of the concerns of all parties to give effect to the Good Friday Agreement and other agreements. This is a work in progress.

She added: “Our determination is to make politics work. It is going to take all of the parties to make the politics work.

“It is going to need to be a sustainable and credible government. It is going to need to be a government that actually has equality at its core.”

Sinn Féin interprets use of the Irish language as an equality issue, while the DUP has opposed proposals to introduce same-sex marriage and to legalise abortion in Northern Ireland.

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney was due to be in Dublin early this morning, but did not attend as he was still in Belfast.

The UK Secretary for Northern Ireland Julian Smith is also navigating the talks; if a deal isn’t reached by next Monday 13 January, Smith had promised he would assume a legal obligation to call a snap Assembly election.

That date was chosen as it’s when legislation to give civil servants additional powers to run Northern Ireland’s public services expires.

The UK and Irish governments could even publish the proposal to restore Stormont power-sharing before a deal is actually done, which would represent a new approach for political negotiations in Northern Ireland.

Ulster Unionist negotiator Mike Nesbitt said the time has come to make a decision in talks at Stormont, saying “there is a time to negotiate and there is a time to decide – this is the time to decide”.

“We as the Ulster Unionists have a problem about making a decision, we haven’t even had a briefing on the paper, nevermind sight of the proposed resolution to what is going on.

“We will remain optimistic, we want a resolution, we want a decision, we want nurses to get their pay, we want schools to get their budgets, we want to get on with governing the country – but of course it is not just down to us, and we need the DUP and Sinn Féin to show leadership by making a decision today.”

- with reporting from the Press Association

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