British government must not sub-contract talks role, says Arlene Foster

DUP leader Arlene Foster and deputy leader Nigel Dodds in Westminster, London, following a meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May and Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley to discuss the powersharing impasse. Pic: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

DUP leader Arlene Foster has warned the government that it cannot “sub-contract” the role of mediator in any talks aimed at breaking Northern Ireland’s powersharing deadlock.

An independent mediator has been suggested by a number of parties as a way of ending the Stormont stalemate, which has been going on for 20 months.

However, speaking after meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May in Westminster today, Mrs Foster said: “We believe that the British government in relation to strand one needs to step up and take control of that position.

“We believe there’s a role for facilitation, but we also believe the British must not sub-contract their role, because of course under the Belfast Agreement, until the people of Northern Ireland decide otherwise, the UK government is in charge of Northern Ireland.”

Describing their meeting as “detailed”, the former First Minister said the first thing that needs to be “set in motion” is decision-making.

“There is a whole range of decisions that need to be taken in Northern Ireland very, very urgently and we want to see that happening quickly,” she added.

Reacting to Mrs Foster’s comments, Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy accused the DUP of “looking for excuses to avoid meaningful political talks” to get the Executive up and running again.

Also criticising the DUP’s “anti-mediator stance”, Alliance leader Naomi Long said Arlene Foster is “living in a dream world if she genuinely still believes Northern Ireland’s growing political problems can be solved without the aid of an outside mediator.”

Meanwhile, speaking after a meeting with Ireland’s deputy premier Simon Coveney in Dublin, Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill said she was concerned that the UK government “has moved from a ‘do nothing’ approach to restoring the political institutions in the north to actively preventing a return to powersharing.”

“Today I told Simon Coveney that the Dublin government must assert its role as a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement in order to help restore the political institutions and address directly the core problem of the denial of rights,” she said.

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