Direct Rule budget ‘not the end’ for Stormont - May


The British Prime Minister has spoken separately to the Sinn Fein and DUP leaderships to insist that hope remains for a talks deal to retain the Stormont Assembly.

Theresa May held phone conversations with senior Sinn Fein politicians Gerry Adams, Michelle O’Neill and Mary Lou McDonald and DUP leader Arlene Foster yesterday.

Details of the conversation were released by Downing Street. They said that May claimed that although the British government had set the north’s latest budget, that this was not an indication of a return to full Direct Rule. The budget is to be introduced in the Westminster parliament on Monday.

A spokeswoman said Mrs May had urged both parties to “bridge the gaps” on contentious issues, including a standalone Irish language act, and strike a deal.

Although May and 26 County Taoiseach Leo Varadkar have insisted the gap between Sinn Fein and the DUP is “narrow” there seems little prospect of an immediate breakthrough in the 10-month deadlock.

Several rounds of talks between the two main parties since the March assembly elections have broken up without any agreement. The latest talks ended at the start of this month after the parties failed to meet another deadline set by London.

While Sinn Fein said it was prepared to continue negotiations, the DUP’s deputy leader Nigel Dodds said British ministers needed to be appointed “within weeks” if no deal can be reached.

Speaking from the US, where he is currently on a tour, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams notably directed pressure towards the British government to move to implement previous agreements.

“The provision of an Irish Language Act, Marriage Equality, a Bill of Rights and funding for legacy inquests are all British government obligations,” he said.

Mr Adams claimed the Tory government was more interested in maintaining its “confidence and supply” pact with the DUP at Westminster than the restoration of power-sharing.

“Consequently, it has acquiesced to the blocking of the equality agenda by the DUP and of measures that are the norm in all other parts of our islands,” he said.

“We told the British PM that this is unacceptable. If power sharing and the Good Friday Agreement are to mean anything, then these rights based issues must be implemented.”

Mr Adams has warned that full Direct Rule would be another breach of the Good Friday Agreement and said it was “not an option”.

The contacts come amid speculation that a renewed effort to forge a deal in time for Christmas could get underway once the annual conferences of both Sinn Fein and the DUP are out of the way later this month. Sinn Fein’s Ard Fheis will take place from November 17-18, while the DUP’s annual party conference will be held the following week on November 25.

After more than eleven years of broad political stalemate and mounting evidence of corruption at Stormont, there have also been demands for an alternative approach. Green Party leader Steven Agnew this week called for contentious issues to be opened up to a “citizen’s assembly” and warned that “the Good Friday Agreement as we know it is dead”.

Speaking at the annual Friends of Sinn Fein dinner in New York, Mr Adams said his party remains open to dialogue and is in contact with the DUP. He again appealed to Irish America for support for a ‘border poll’ within the Six Counties on Irish reunification.

“Irish America has a huge role to play in winning the right to a referendum and winning the vote for unity,” he said.

“Two months ago President Trump agreed to appoint a Special Envoy to the peace process. I welcome that and I commend the Democratic and Republican representatives who lobbied on this. Many here understand and appreciate that the Irish peace process remains the most successful US foreign policy engagement.”

He also spoke about next week’s Ard Fheis, at which he will outline a plan for a generational transition of Sinn Fein, which is to see much of the party’s remaining ‘old guard’ cleared out -- including Mr Adams himself -- and replaced by younger members.

The plan could add to tensions within the party over accusations of bullying and vilification, which this week claimed another casualty in the form of the resignation of prominent Tipperary councillor Seamie Morris.

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