Talks deadline postponed again
Talks deadline postponed again


Talks between the Stormont political parties have been extended into May amid a deadlock which Sinn Fein has blamed on unionists’ refusal to back a rights-based society.

The talks have been described as “constructive” but there has been little progress on key points such as an Irish Language Act or truth and justice issues.

The political deadlock came after a snap election last month over a corruption scandal. In a shock result, it brought an end to Stormont’s unionist majority and the DUP’s lead over Sinn Fein was cut from 10 seats to one.

Amid widespread nationalist frustration at unionist bigotry and corruption, a number of issues arising from unimplemented past agreements have resurfaced in the current talks, such as a Bill of Rights as outlined in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, and the re-establishment of a forum to allow civic society to contribute to the political process.

Parties had until Friday to resolve their differences, but that has now been extended until early May following a statement by the British Direct Ruler James Brokenshire. He again threatened to reinstate full direct rule from London if the talks failed.

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams reiterated his view that progress could only be made if the DUP signed up to rights-based institutions.

“Sinn Fein are quite relaxed about talks continuing for a short while but there has to be progress,” said Mr Adams.

“This can’t go on indefinitely. If you want a crystallisation about where this impasse is it is about rights.”

All the issues are very, very clear for anyone who wants to look at them, he added.

“These are modest but important matters. Those in place - the institutions will flourish. Those not in place - the institutions will not be back.”

Far bigger problems had been overcome in the past, he said, but the level of engagement with his party was unsatisfactory.

Mr Adams also said responsibility for resolving legacy matters lay with the British government.

He said the main stumbling blocks were the government’s “use of so-called national security interest to give itself a get-out clause” and its refusal to fund inquests into state killings.

Asked if the institutions could be restored without agreement on structures to deal with the legacy of the past, the Sinn Fein leader said: “Arguably yes, but it would be on a very infirm basis.”

He added that such a move would “alienate many, many people”.

Campaign group Relatives for Justice (RFJ) and other human rights groups warned any attempt to establish a Stormont executive without resolving how to deal with the past would be “totally inexcusable and unforgivable”.

But in a move which has been cautiously welcomed by Sinn Fein, DUP leader Arlene Foster said she would use the Easter break to contact Irish language speakers, saying she wants to better understand those who use the language but “don’t want to use it as a political weapon”.

Irish language group Pobal said it would “gladly accept” Mrs Foster’s invitation to meet with Irish speakers and it had written to Mrs Foster to arrange a meeting.

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