Sinn Fein and the DUP have continued to tussle publicly over efforts to ressurrect Stormont – with one of the latter’s top figures warning that republicans should desist from “high wire acts” as the supposed deadline draws near.
Edwin Poots was speaking as Sinn Fein signalled it has little appetite to negotiate on one of the issues which is thought to be at the core of securing an agreement; namely, the creation of an Irish Language Act.
Former DUP leader Peter Robinson has now signalled that a such an act may be acceptable – though he suggested that there needs to be some kind of reciprocal arrangement for Ulster Scots culture – but Sinn Fein nonetheless said that the DUP “haven’t moved on ending the denial of rights to Irish speakers”.
Meanwhile sources from the SDLP, the UUP and Alliance would not say definitively whether any of them will enter an Executive, or go into opposition.
In addition, independent unionist Claire Sugden – who previously served as justice minister, acting as a linchpin which allowed the previous DUP/Sinn Fein Executive to function – revealed she has not been approached about taking the job this time around, even though the government-imposed talks deadline is supposed to be tomorrow (though she said that she would be prepared to take on the role again if asked).
Declan Kearney, Sinn Fein national chairman, said the DUP is not prepared to move on its demands for an Irish Language Act, the introduction of same-sex marriage, and a ‘bill of rights’.
Mr Kearney said: “The DUP have not moved on any of the substantive issue which sit at the heart of this crisis.
“They haven’t moved on any of the fundamental rights and equality issues that require to be embraced.”
Asked if Sinn Fein is prepared to drop its opposition to Mrs Foster returning as First Minister while a public inquiry into athe Renewable Heat Incentive scheme is ongoing, Mr Kearney stressed the urgent need is to address “rights and equality” issues.
But he added: “In those circumstances if in fact we can find resolution and progress on all of the fundamental issues then we can address the issue of the future role of the DUP leader in a possible future Executive, but at this point that question is academic.”
DUP negotiator Edwin Poots (MLA for Lagan Valley, and former health minister) suggested a “parallel process” could be initiated, whereby an Executive is formed while talks on the outstanding issues continued.
Mr Poots said of the negotiations: “I can’t say they are easy, but nonetheless we want to get Stormont up and running and we can get it up and running straight away and distribute the money our DUP have successfully received from the UK government.
“We believe we need to be respectful of all cultures and all traditions across Northern Ireland and are working hard to find a means through that and ensure that we can continue to deliver.
“I would encourage Sinn Fein to be mature, no high wire acts, let’s get down to work, knuckle down and find a way through this and it is possible if people apply themselves.”
He told the BBC’s Mark Devenport that the DUP had entered the negotiations “with no red lines”.
Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire claimed the parties were focusing on differences over equality and language issues, but that “time is marching on” before the “statutory deadline of Thursday afternoon”.
The SDLP on Tuesday night told the News Letter it will “engage fully in the talks process and, based on the outcome of the talks, will make a decision as to whether or not to go into the Executive”, whilst an Alliance spokesman said only that there will be a meeting of its party executive on Wednesday night to discuss the issue.
UUP MLA for Upper Bann Doug Beattie was asked whether the party is leaning towards government or opposition, and replied: “I can’t say because we haven’t seen what the deal is.”
He went on to declare himself “embarrassed” by the fact politicians in the Province cannot “find a solution to something as simple as a language act”.