Unionists need to “rediscover their dignity” and tell the Irish government to back off from the Stormont negotiations, Jim Allister has said.
The TUV leader was speaking today after the Irish and UK governments issued a jointly written communiqué on Sunday night, saying it is “essential to continue and intensify talks” and “imperative” a solution be found to the present deadlock.
Mr Allister said that Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney has been allowed to give the impression of being in control of proceedings – despite having no role in the Province’s internal affairs – and that unionists appear to have “given up” on resisting such involvement.
Last week both Mr Coveney and Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley emerged from Stormont House in Belfast to address the press about the negotiations, but while he answered questions for several minutes, she walked off after giving a one-minute statement.
Speaking in Assembly Buildings today, Mr Allister said: “Today the circus is back in town, under ringmaster Coveney.
“It’s time unionists rediscovered and reasserted their dignity and principle about the future – the internal future – of Northern Ireland.”
DUP leader Arlene Foster told the News Letter: “The Irish government regularly reminds us of the commitments of the Belfast Agreement.
“They should put actions to their words and respect the three-stranded approach which was a fundamental part of that Agreement [setting out a limited role for Dublin on some all-island matters].
“The Secretary of State should ensure the Irish Prime Minister and Foreign Minister do not over step the mark and respect the constitutional settlement.”
Meanwhile, prominent DUP MLA Edwin Poots, a former minister who was part of the talks last year (but is not in the present negotiating team) told the News Letter: “It doesn’t matter what Simon Coveney wants. There’ll only be agreement when the majority of unionists agree to it.
“And we represent the majority of unionists. We’re not particularly concerned about Simon Coveney.”
UUP leader Robin Swann said there is a “very small window” left to restore devolution, adding “progress is far from guaranteed”.
A party spokesman said: “We have always been clear that the Irish government’s participation in talks should be on the basis of the three-stranded approach and we will continue to ensure that this is the case.”
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said of the prospect of reaching a deal: “This will not get done if it goes beyond the end of this month ... it needs to happen this month or I don’t think it will happen.”
Sinn Fein said “the two governments have publicly said there has been a constructive engagement and that is also how we would characterise the work done to date; it is now time to move beyond that constructive engagement to actually delivering to bring about an Assembly and Executive again”.
The Stormont Assembly collapsed in January 2017 when Martin McGuinness walked out of government in protest at the RHI scandal.
Ever since, Sinn Fein has refused to re-enter government unless it guarantees “respect”, “equality” and “rights” – with an Irish language act at the top of the list of demands.