Continuing allegations of unionist bigotry and corruption hang over power-sharing talks, which face a potential deadline next week when the British government could call another snap Assembly election or reimpose full direct rule from London.
The negotiations, which were effectively suspended for St Patrick’s weekend, will resume on Monday.
DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson again insisted Sinn Fein’s demand that DUP leader Arlene Foster step aside over alleged corruption scandals as “unreasonable”, but predicted that the party would “relent”.
Sinn Fein has said it will not backing down. “Sinn Fein’s position on Arlene Foster is clear, we won’t support her nomination as First Minister until the RHI inquiry reports,” said the party in response.
“Our focus is on reaching agreement on the restoration of the political institutions. But it cannot be on the same basis as before.
“We are in the talks on that basis but we don’t yet have an agreement and a major blockage is the British Government’s refusal to honour its commitments.
“If the Executive is not formed, the two governments need to begin detailed work on British-Irish partnership arrangements to ensure that the Good Friday Agreement is actively developed across its structures and functions.”
Meanwhile, the scandals which led up to the current crisis have continued to brew.
A list of those who claimed funds under the ‘Renewable Heath Initiative’ released yesterday appears to confirm that the unionist community was the major beneficiary of the free-money ‘cash for ash’ scheme set up under the direction of Arlene Foster.
It also emerged this week that only two of more than 60 Gaelic sports clubs which applied to a controversial DUP-controlled community fund were successful. It was previously confirmed that the vast majority of successful applicants, around 90 of them, had links to Protestant marching organisations.
LANGUAGE ACT CLAIMS UNTRUE
Meanwhile, an Irish language organisation has shown that DUP claims regarding the cost of an Irish language act, another major sticking point in the current talks, are false.
Last month former DUP Assembly member Nelson McCausland claimed an act to protect the rights of Irish speakers in the North would cost “around 100 million pounds a year”.
Irish language board Conradh na Gaeilge said the total cost over the five-year span of a typical Executive would be just 19 million pounds. The body presented the figures as part of a discussion document explaining the costs associated with the introduction of an act.
Dr Niall Comer, President of Conradh na Gaeilge, said it was time for the north’s parties to agree an Irish language act, and called for “an end to the delay and the pretence”.
“We are calling on the parties now to come together and support these proposals, and to implement Irish-language legislation, as recently recommended by both the Council of Europe and the United Nations, and as was promised over ten years ago in the St Andrews Agreement,” he said.
Earlier this month, the organisation won a legal challenge against former Sinn Fein Culture Minister Caral ni Chuilin and the Stormont Executive over their collective failure to adopt an Irish language strategy.
The Executive was found to have acted in contravention of the 1998 Northern Ireland Act and the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages in failing to implement protections for Irish language speakers.
Ms Ni Chuilin said her party remained committed to an Irish Language Act and to the delivery of rights and respect for the Irish Language and for Irish speakers.
“If the current political talks are to have any value then agreements need to be implemented,” she said.