Unionists have dismissed the idea that an external mediator could play a “constructive” role in attempts to get talks back up and running at Stormont.
DUP MP Sammy Wilson said the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Karen Bradley was “grasping at straws” after she told the House of Commons she was “actively considering” the appointment of an external mediator for power-sharing talks.
The UUP also rubbished the proposal, saying that the “problems lie with the Northern Ireland parties”.
Sinn Fein, meanwhile, said they had “always supported an independent chair” for talks but stressed that the current impasse is “about political will rather than the process”.
Speaking to the News Letter, Mr Wilson said: “There’s no point in having an external mediator, an internal mediator or an eternal mediator if there is no willingness to sensibly engage in a solution.
“The problem is Sinn Fein have made it quite clear they don’t intend to have Stormont up and running.
“You can only bring people together if there is a willingness on their part to do something.
“And if there is a willingness then you don’t need an external mediator – you just get on with the job. As long as you have Sinn Fein intent on keeping the doors of Stormont locked, you aren’t going to get anywhere.”
The East Antrim MP added: “She (Karen Bradley) is grasping at straws. If she wants to have an external mediator, are we (the DUP) going to jump up and down about it? No, but I think you also have to be realistic as to what the problem is.”
His party colleague, Jim Shannon MP, adopted a slightly different position.
“If it enables the talks process to move that slight bit closer to an agreeable solution, then I’d be in favour of it,” he said.
“But Sinn Fein’s focus is on the Republic of Ireland. Perhaps Brexit needs to be completed and even the election in the Republic of Ireland needs to be completed before Sinn Fein begin to look realistically at Northern Ireland.”
Sinn Fein MLA Emma Rogan said: “Sinn Fein have always supported an independent chair. However, the restoration of the institutions is about political will rather than the process.
“Karen Bradley’s move to suspend her powers to call an election as set out in legislation is a retrograde step that does nothing to help restore the power-sharing institutions.
“It speaks volumes about this British government that it would prefer to change the law rather than comply with it. It merely shows the depths Theresa May’s Tory government is prepared to go to sustain its toxic pact with the DUP.”
A spokesperson for the UUP said: “We don’t see the need for an independent talks facilitator. The problems lie with the Northern Ireland political parties and only they can provide the solutions.”
The Alliance Party are more positive about the idea of a mediator. A spokesperson said: “The DUP and Sinn Fein have been given ample space to resolve their differences since the collapse of the power-sharing institutions.
“We need a change in approach. Alliance has called for an independent facilitator over a prolonged period of time and we will be reiterating that to the secretary of state tomorrow.
“A facilitator can’t themselves close the gaps between parties but they can bring a new dynamic and integrity to the negotiations.”
The SDLP declined to comment before their meeting today with Mrs Bradley.