Sinn Fein has described the Stormont multi-party talks a “sham process” and warned that there is limited prospect of agreement unless the DUP shows a greater willingness to engage.
The DUP boycotted the opening round-table session of the talks, claiming it was a “circus” designed to accommodate the media.
But two weeks later, no plenary talks have still been held, and there have still been no face-to-face discussions between Sinn Fein and the DUP. A series of other bilateral and trilateral meetings have taken place at Stormont House over recent days, but an actual agenda for the discussions has yet to be drawn up.
Sinn Fein negotiator Conor Murphy accused the DUP of holding the process to ransom over the north Belfast parading issue. Unionists have insisted on receiving concessions on the issue of allowing sectarian parades in north Belfast before other matters are discussed.
The DUP have focussed their interest on a private meeting they held with British Direct Ruler Theresa Villiers, who is chairing the talks, on the proposal for a ‘panel’ to examine the matter.
Mr Murphy warned the British government that it would be a mistake to “indulge” unionists. He said the lack of engagement from the DUP rendered the talks a “sham process”.
“They called for these talks yet when we earnestly try to get them started we get no buy-in from the DUP,” he said.
“We can have discussions with the other parties and the two governments for as long as we want but essentially the two largest parties in the assembly are going to have to agree on things in order for them to work.”
SDLP Foyle MP Mark Durkan said it was wrong of the DUP to call for talks then adopt a “stand-back hold off attitude”.
“What people want is not parties pointing fingers at each other but a sense that these talks can point the way forward,” he said.
“The sooner we can get all of the parties around the table with a sense of a common agenda and a sense of common purpose the better.”
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin has called on Taoiseach Enda Kenny to be clear on what assurances he gave unionists regarding the Dublin government’s role in the all-party talks.
Last week Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt spoke of a “frank conversation” with Enda Kenny in which he was provided with assurances that there would be no input from Dublin in the ‘internal’ affairs of of the Six Counties.
Speaking during Fianna Fail’s annual Wolfe Tone commemoration at Bodenstown, County Kildare, Mr Martin described Mr Nesbitt’s claim about assurances from the taoiseach as “very disturbing.”
“At every point of previous talks we respected the primary role of the Northern parties in reaching agreements concerning arrangements in the assembly and executive -- but we never agreed to be completely excluded from discussions,” the Fianna Fail leader said.
HART DUE TO FLY IN
Meanwhile, former US presidential candidate Gary Hart has been confirmed as the US’s new peace envoy to the north of Ireland. The 77-year-old, who served as a senator for Colorado for 12 years, is due to visit Belfast before the end of this month.
US secretary of state John Kerry said he had asked Mr Hart to “play a direct, on-the-ground diplomatic role”. He said Mr Hart had spent “many weeks in Ireland and Northern Ireland over the past 30 years” and knew many of the north’s political leaders.
“I’ve asked Senator Hart to support the parties in Northern Ireland as they enter a new round of talks to achieve a lasting peace,” Mr Kerry said.
“I am confident Senator Hart will help the parties strengthen the institutions and economy of Northern Ireland, as well as reinvigorate efforts to promote a shared society”.