Sinn Fein urged to ‘look at bigger picture’ – not Irish language

The DUP said talks could have continued in parallel with a functioning Executive at Stormont
The DUP said talks could have continued in parallel with a functioning Executive at Stormont

Sinn Fein should stop stalling on re-establishing the NI Executive over Irish language provision and “look at the bigger picture” of providing essential services, the DUP has said.

Responding to claims by Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams that the DUP was showing no inclination to “deal with rights-based issues,” Christopher Stalford said his party was ready to take its seats around the Executive table.

“On Saturday the DUP negotiating team led by Arlene Foster was in Stormont Castle. We had discussions with Sinn Fein and the secretary of state. Discussions ended early as Sinn Fein had to leave.

“The DUP wanted the Executive in place last Thursday. There was no reason why these discussions could not have been conducted in parallel with a functioning Executive. Key education and health reforms are being stalled by Sinn Fein’s refusal to form a government,” the DUP MLA said.

On Thursday, the parties at loggerheads missed a deadline to restore the devolved Assembly and Secretary of State James Brokenshire will make a statement to the House of Commons on Monday outlining the government’s intentions going forward.

In the absence of agreement, the options open to Mr Brokenshire include setting another deadline for the talks process, calling a second snap Assembly election or reimposing some form of direct rule from London.

The institutions imploded in January when DUP leader Arlene Foster was forced from office after Sinn Fein’s then deputy first minister, the late Martin McGuinness, quit.

That was in protest at the DUP’s handling of the renewable heat incentive (RHI) – a scheme that left the administration facing an overspend of up to £490 million.

One of the main sticking points is over Sinn Fein’s call for an act officially protecting the Irish language.

Republicans argue bestowing the status on the minority tongue would represent a major step towards respect and equality for all in Northern Ireland.

The DUP has said it already supported Irish medium school education during years of devolved government and has accused Sinn Fein of politicising its use.

Without a deal or another extension to the deadline, Northern Ireland faces the prospect of direct rule from Westminster or a second set of snap elections this year.

Mr Stalford said: “The Irish language is very important to many in Northern Ireland but so too are good hospitals and schools.”