DUP looks to London


Sinn Fein has warned that the DUP has “checked out” of any attempt to restore the powersharing institutions in Belfast as the Tory government in London introduced an effective Direct Rule budget for the North of Ireland.

DUP leader Arlene Foster has signalled that the day-to-day administration of the north of Ireland should remain in the hands of the London government for the foreseeable future.

As the budget was being published, she told the British Chambers of Commerce annual conference in London on Thursday that she saw “little prospect” of a Stormont executive being formed “in the coming weeks or months”.

The former First Minister in the Six Counties claimed her party wanted devolution but that it was “having decisions made through Westminster”, where it currently has a pact with the minority Tory government.

Her remarks came after former DUP Stormont minister Simon Hamilton admitted on Wednesday that devolved government would not be reinstated “this year and perhaps even beyond”.

Mr Hamilton claimed media reports suggesting that a draft talks deal had been done to restore devolution, and that DUP leader Arlene Foster handed over a hard copy to Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill, were the result of “mischief making” and “selective leaking” by republicans.

Mr Hamilton claimed factors preventing a restoration of devolution included Sinn Fein “intransigence” and the party’s continued “eulogising” of the IRA.

“Their behaviour in recent days and their behaviour in recent weeks suggest to me that they are not serious about getting devolution back,” he said.

DUP MP Sammy Wilson denied that published details of extensive exchanges between the parties last month were true.

“Sinn Fein, when it has suited them in the past, have lied about everything and what irks us is the credibility which is given to the lies they tell, rather than the explanations that we give,” he said in media interviews. He said there would be further talks between Sinn Fein and the DUP, insisting “Sinn Fein are not fit to be in government”.

The remarks showed the DUP had “checked out of the power-sharing institutions or any renewed effort to restore them”, said Sinn Fein negotiator Conor Murphy.

“This follows their decision to renege on the draft agreement and to crash the talks process in the face of opposition from their own most right-wing, anti-agreement elements,” he said.

“But our public services and the rights of citizens cannot be held to ransom by the DUP’s refusal to close on an agreement which they negotiated over 14 months.”

Mr Murphy called on the Dublin and London governments to convene the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference “to implement previous agreements”, including a commitment to an Irish language act and the release of funds for legacy inquests.

Meanwhile, the DUP expressed delight that almost half of their promised #1bn funding package as part of their deal to prop up the Tories was included in the Six County budget, announced in a written statement by the British Direct Ruler, Karen Bradley.

Former Sinn Fein finance minister Mairtin O Muilleoir denied the budget amounted to the return of full Direct Rule. He said it was part of the British government’s “austerity agenda”, and noted there was no money for legacy inquests.

SDLP finance spokeswoman Claire Hanna insisted Bradley’s spending plan as a “direct rule budget from London directed by the DUP”.

“This budget presents more questions than answers - primarily, how can it be acceptable that the DUP confidence and supply is allocated to departments without any political accountability?” she said.

Ms Hanna said the relationship between the Conservatives and the DUP was not a solution. “It undermines the very fabric of our politics and the spirit of power sharing that underpins it,” she said.

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