The prospects of restoring Stormont in the foreseeable future are “totally dead in the water”, a senior DUP source has told the News Letter.
Amid bitter recriminations between the DUP and Sinn Féin over a draft agreement which the DUP walked away from last week, the source said Stormont is unlikely to return for a considerable period.
Although the Government is deeply reluctant to move to formal direct rule, a second direct rule budget for Stormont is expected to be brought to the House of Commons soon.
Writing in today’s News Letter, one of the DUP’s negotiators, Simon Hamilton, says Westminster “must now act to set a budget and take key decisions”.
But, in a warning against unionism seeing direct rule as a long-term solution, he adds: “Whilst decision-making in London is necessary at present, devolution must remain our objective.
“It is in the long-term interests of unionists to have control over our own destiny.”
Yesterday the DUP found itself again battling to explain apparent inconsistencies around what was going on in the talks.
After the party’s legacy spokesman Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said live on television on Thursday night he was not aware of an alleged Sinn Féin side deal with the Government to hand over money for inquests into some Troubles deaths, Arlene Foster (pictured with UUP leader Robin Swann) said in a statement “no one in the DUP was aware of inquest funding being progressed in the absence of an overall agreement or a decision to advance all elements of the Stormont House Agreement”.
She did not deny Sinn Féin’s claim that the party was aware that the money would be released in the event of an agreement.
Meanwhile, the UUP party officers yesterday accused the DUP of playing “fast and loose with the future of unionism” and entering negotiations “based on a Sinn Féin agenda”.
The UUP party officers claimed that “by a combination of arrogance and incompetence [the DUP] created the opportunity for Sinn Fein to bring down Stormont and force a new set of negotiations on Gerry Adam’s terms”.
However, DUP MP Gregory Campbell last night said in a statement that there was a need for “everyone to calm down and focus on delivery”.
The East Londonderry MP said: “We have no government as a result of the SF walkout a year ago. Sinn Fein is rushing around making claim and counter claim all because their outrageous demands have not been met.”
He added: “When all those getting over excited have decided to calm down, a budget has to be set. This can happen now precisely because we called time on the 13 month talks process, had we not done so all the important issues such as health, education, infrastructure etc. would continue to suffer.
“Had politicians continued to talk with no budget in place we would have quite rightly been condemned.
“The DUP took the right decision, we all now need to move on.”
Meanwhile, last night it emerged that a proposed Westminster law for same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland will be introduced at the end of March.
South Armagh-born Labour MP Conor McGinn said he would table a private member’s bill.
Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley has previously said MPs would be given a free vote.
Mr McGinn, the son of a former Sinn Féin councillor, said that he would prefer to see a devolved Executive take forward the issue but that his bill would “test the mood of the House of Commons and I am very confident that we will win any vote. It is then for the Government to legislate”.