Sinn Fein ‘not up for agreement’ as new deal deadline set

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson in the House of Commons
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson in the House of Commons

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has expressed his disappointment that “Sinn Fein are not up for an agreement,” as the new deadline for reaching a deal to restore the Stormont Executive is confirmed as June 29.

Secretary of State James Brokenshire confirmed that the formal talks process had been “paused until after the general election” on June 8.

Mr Brokenshire said a number of outstanding issues remained to be resolved following seven weeks of discussions after March’s Assembly elections.

Mr Donaldson said he was concerned that the run up to the election “will further polarise the political process” and make the prospect of an agreement being reached over the next few weeks “very difficult”.

He said: “I hope that Sinn Fein will use the election period to reflect on where we are, and to recognise that, if we are serious about reaching an agreement, if we are serious about influencing the future direction of our country with big decisions on Brexit and so on, then we really do need to form a government.”

Despite the extended deadline for restoring the Executive, Mr Brokenshire said some progress has been made on developing a programme for devolved government and addressing the legacy of thousands of conflict killings and injuries.

“All the parties involved recognise it is vital devolved government, and all of the institutions established under the Belfast Agreement and its successors, resumes in Northern Ireland as soon as possible,” he said.

Public services are being run by civil servants on a proportion of their true budget because there are no ministers to make decisions.

Teachers have warned of catastrophic job losses and the health service is also threatened.

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said the work made to date should be “banked” to be built on after the election.

“We are both disappointed and frustrated that we are now at this stage. In Northern Ireland we want to see a functioning Executive and a functioning Assembly.”

Sinn Fein’s Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill said the calling of the election had scuppered any chance of agreement on the way forward.

She said the pause was a realistic decision.

“It has been very clear over the last seven or eight weeks that the DUP and the British government have not moved far enough to address the issues.”

She said Arlene Foster’s engagement with the Irish language community was a step in the right direction and hopefully paved the way for developing their approach to the Irish language.

“We want the Executive to work, we want good government, we want to be able to take the decisions that impact on people’s lives and we remain committed to doing that.”

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long warned that the consequences of the negotiations break could be grave.

She said: “We have been able to park the process but we cannot stop the juggernaut of chaos and cuts which is heading through our public finances, our health and education services, our infrastructure investments and the instability of all of that which is impacting on the wider economy.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the hiatus was a sensible step but time was limited to find a deal before June 29.

He said if the will was there, agreement could be found.

“It takes people to understand that the only kind of government we can have will be one that is truly and properly based on the principles of power-sharing and partnership.”