The British Direct Ruler James Brokenshire has threatened to rerun last week’s historic election after Sinn Fein walked out of a meeting with him over his government’s refusal to allow inquests into state killings to proceed.
The parties were in talks following the snap election which saw Sinn Fein end the unionist majority at Stormont and come within 1,200 votes of toppling the DUP as largest party.
In a letter, Mr Brokenshire warned if no agreement is reached there “would be no Executive, no real budget, no Programme for Government and risks to public services”.
But Sinn Fein accused the British government of “holding up” justice for families whose loved ones were killed during the conflict. On Tuesday, the party broke off its meeting with Mr Brokenshire, saying all he did was “waffle, waffle and more waffle”.
The party’s northern leader Michelle O’Neill said that the British government had not made any proposals on the key issues, but the party was still seeking progress.
After the meeting she said: “Sinn Fein will come at these negotiations with a willingness to find a way through to make sure we have institutions that deliver for all of our citizens. We have made it very clear and we repeat again that we will not return to the status quo.”
The Sinn Fein Stormont leader accused Brokenshire of openly favouring unionists.
“His one-sided partisan view means he cannot be an honest broker in negotiations,” she said.
“I think the British government have continually failed to live up to their responsibilities as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement. They have pandered to unionism time and time again, and they have shown and demonstrated a one-sided approach when it comes to the issues of legacy.”
Sinn Fein also met with 26 County Minister for Foreign Affairs, Charlie Flanagan, who joined the Stormont talks to the anger of unionist hardliners who believe Dublin should have no role.
A deadline is approaching to broker a deal. Should no First Ministers be put forward on March 27, the British can use existing Westminster legislation to call an election, or scrap Stormont entirely. The earliest date for an election after the March 27 Assembly sitting would be Thursday May 4.
Gerry Adams warned that the British government seemed determined to repeat the mistakes of the past, and pointed to the record low vote of Conservative Party candidates in last week’s election.
“The British government has consistently refused to implement the agreements, have sought to impose Brexit against the will of the people and the best interests of the economy. They have sought a special deal to ensure that no British soldier and their agents can be held to account for their action during the conflict,” he said.
“Remember the British Conservatives got only 2379 votes in last week’s election. The approach of James Brokenshire and the British Government is part of the problem. Without a fundamental change in the approach of the British government, there can be no progress.”
He said there was a responsibility on the two governments to “come to the table with a plan to honour all agreements”.
“If progress is to be made we need to hear from the governments that they will oversee the full implementation all agreements. To date they have failed to do this.”
Meanwhile, US Congressman Richard Neal has called on US president Donald Trump to appoint a new special envoy for the North of Ireland ahead of Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s visit to Washington next week.
Speaking ahead of a week-long programme of St Patrick’s Day events, the Massachusetts congressman said that since the appointment of former senator George Mitchell in 1995, the six individuals who have held the position have made a contribution.
“On both sides of the Atlantic, there is little debate that each special envoy has played an indispensable role in the negotiation and implementation of several peace accords, and have helped to strengthen ties between the United States and Ireland,” he said, adding that their appointments have signalled “continued American interest in the region and ongoing support for the peace process.”
He said there could not be a more appropriate time for Mr Trump to name a new special envoy “as we prepare for the last official visit of Taoiseach Enda Kenny to Washington DC, contemplate the ramifications that Brexit will have on the island of Ireland, and digest the results of the recent elections in the north”.