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Sinn Féin says direct rule is 'off the table' as Varadkar speaks by phone to Theresa May

An Taoiseach met this evening with the Sinn Féin leadership in Dublin.

Updated 8.40 pm

sf leo Source: Rollingnews.ie

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR and Tánaiste Simon Coveney met with the Sinn Féin leadership this evening to discuss the ongoing impasse in Northern Ireland.

After the meeting, Varadkar spoke by phone to UK Prime Minister Theresa May.

Talks aimed at bringing back a working Assembly to the North, which has been without a government for 13 months, fell at the last hurdle last week with the DUP pulling the plug, and both the dominant unionist party and Sinn Féin collectively pointing the finger at each other as to who was responsible.

This evening’s meeting was between Varadkar, Coveney, Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald and the party’s northern leader Michelle O’Neill.

It’s understood Varadkar was keen to hear Sinn Féin’s assessment of the events of last week.

In a statement released by An Taoiseach following the meeting, Varadkar said his government was fully committed to the the Good Friday Agreement and wanted to see northern institutions back up and running.

As co-guarantor to the agreement, the government will continue to engage with the parties in Northern Ireland and the British government to support the urgent formation of a new Executive by the mandated political parties.

“The Irish government does not want to see the introduction of direct rule in Northern Ireland,” Varadkar added.

A spokesperson for 10 Downing Street said this evening that both May and Varadkar “recognised the progress and serious engagement made by the parties” in Northern Ireland.

“The Prime Minister said she believed there was scope for agreement and reiterated the UK government’s priority was still to get devolution up and running again in Northern Ireland,” the spokesperson added.

Impasse  

Talks on the return of devolved government broke down last Wednesday with DUP leader Arlene Foster saying they had failed on the issue of the Irish language.

Her statement was contradicted by Sinn Féin which said that an agreement had been reached but the DUP has not followed through on its commitment.

Sinn Féin wants legislation which proposes protection of Irish as a minority language, a similar standing that the Welsh language has in Wales.

Speaking this evening ahead of this evening’s meeting, McDonald said that Sinn Fein will provide the text of the agreement she says was agreed with the DUP to both governments and will also brief other parties on the same.

“We are extremely disappointed that the DUP, having come so far, could not get this deal over the line. And so where we find ourselves now is a situation where all of the issues are still outstanding and need to be resolved,” McDonald told reporters outside Government Buildings in Dublin.

McDonald added that there “cannot be a vacuum” and said she would asking Varadkar to push the British government on releasing fundings for legacy inquests.

McDonald also said that direct rule “is not acceptable” and “is not on the table”:

We need answers for those citizens who still do not have equality rights in terms of marriage and language rights and we’re saying very, very clearly that the inter-governmental conference must be convened as a matter of urgency.

“Had the DUP been as good as their word, had they held their nerve, had they been prepared to lead we would now been meeting you to talk about the reestablishment of the institutions. We’re not at that place now, so direct rule is not on the table,” she added.

Asked about Sinn Féin’s insistence on an Irish language act, McDonald said a proposal was agreed with the DUP that included other cultural provisions important to unionists.

“We know we had very detailed deliberations with the DUP. We got to a point of agreeing a method that dealt with Acht na Gaeilge but that also looked more broadly to Ulster-Scots and to principles of inclusion and respect,” she said.

Image uploaded from iOS (5) McDonald is flanked my MLAs Conor Murphy and Michelle O'Neill. Source: TheJournal.ie

Despite McDonald’s insistence that direct rules was “not on the table”, the DUP has this evening called for London to take decisions on Northern Ireland.

In a statement, Foster says she has asked Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Karen Bradley to not only set a budget for Northern Ireland but to “take key decisions” about infrastructure and services.

“Frontline staff have been living hand to mouth for too long. The Northern Ireland people deserve better,” Foster said today following a phone conversation with Bradley.

School principals, hospital managers and infrastructure planners have been in limbo for months unsure of budgets and unable to get ministerial direction. I am not prepared to allow this to continue. Decisions need to be taken.

Foster added that she does not want direct rule and remains committed to a government in Northern Ireland “but not at any price”.

- With reporting by Rónán Duffy

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