Talks process moribund - Foster still says no

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DUP leader Arlene Foster has again ruled out a long-sought Irish Language Act in any new set of negotiations aimed at restoring the Six County Executive with Sinn Fein, and said she had no expectation that talks efforts will begin again after the summer break.

Foster told BBC radio that DUP opposition to stand-alone legislation to protect the rights of Irish speakers was “non-negotiable”.

“It is non-negotiable, and that has been told to Sinn Fein on a number of occasions,” she said.

On Wednesday both Ms Foster and Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald expressed doubts about the expectation of 26 County Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that Stormont talks would resume in the autumn.

Last February, when a previous round of talks collapsed, the DUP and Sinn Fein were reported to have got as far as a compromise that would have delivered Irish language legislation. A reported draft compromise on the issue of language which would have seen three acts - an Irish Language Act, an Ulster-Scots Act and a Respecting Language and Diversity Act - being introduced in a restored Assembly, but it was rejected by Foster as unacceptable to her party. This week she said that position was unchanged, and renewed a call for the British government to implement full Direct Rule from London.

Local politicians and representatives from various Irish language groups joined a student protest at the Culturlann culture centre in Derry over Foster’s comments.

In response, Sinn Fein Deputy Leader Michelle O’Neill said that the rights of citizens are non-negotiable and if fresh efforts to restore the power-sharing institutions are to be successful then they must deliver on “equality, rights and respect for all”.

She also noted a claim by Arlene Foster that a bid to fly an LGBT rainbow flag from a council building to mark Pride Day in Banbridge, County Down, was a “ruse” to remove the Union Jack that is flown there.

“Arlene Foster’s comments are disappointing,” she said. “There is a special responsibility on political leaders to bridge the divide between us and those we represent.

“That requires positive and progressive thinking to resolve the major obstacles to restoring genuine power-sharing and accountable government.”

“We had an agreement in February, which the DUP reneged on and collapsed the political talks rather than end their denial of rights to citizens. They continue to oppose marriage equality, language rights, access to compassionate women’s healthcare and the rights of victims.

“Their attitude towards the LGBT community is epitomised by their disgraceful attempts to prevent the erection of a Rainbow flag from a civic building and Arlene Foster’s defence of that was quite frankly bizarre.

“Sinn Fein is a party of dialogue. We will enter any new talks determined to resolve the issues of rights and equality, which are not going away.

“The two governments must ensure that any new talks process is grounded on a real commitment to implement past agreements and deliver citizens’ rights. The rights of citizens are non-negotiable.”

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