The collapse of talks to revive power-sharing has been described by Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill as a “monumental failure” by British Prime Minister Theresa May who she said had “set back decades of work” in the peace process.
The talks finally fell apart today as participants sought a soft landing for the negotiations before the traditional summer break. Next week will witness the height of the unionist marching season, when hundreds of sectarian parades follow a night of bonfire intimidation and violence.
Addressing journalists at Parliament Buildings in Belfast, Democratic Unionist leader Arlene Foster spoke of contacts continuing through the summer, and insisted her party’s Assembly members should continue to be paid. “I have indicated very clearly that we intend to continue the negotiations, the coming together, the talks over the summer months,” she said. “I do accept that there will be people off on holidays from time to time, – she added – but I think what you are hearing from myself and the DUP is a commitment to continue the work, because we want to find an accommodation that everybody can buy into and we want to find an accommodation that is long-lasting and that will not lead to further problems six months down the line.”
While Assembly members have not been sitting in Parliament Buildings since March’s snap election, the politicians’ summer recess starts on Friday. British Direct Ruler James Brokenshire finally confirmed the talks had ended and that a new power-sharing Executive will not be formed “in the immediate term”. But the Tory cabinet member, who still claims to be a neutral talks arbitrator, said the northern parties had “emphasised their desire to remain engaged and to find a way to return to and resolve these issues. The [British] Government welcomes this and will do all it can to work with the parties to achieve a successful outcome.”
Negotiations have ended until at least the end of the peak marching season, and will likely not fully resume until late August at the earliest. The talks had been struggling with the DUP’s refusal to implement previous agreements, but faced a new obstacle with the hugely controversial deal between the DUP and the Tories to allow Theresa May to return as British PM with the support of the DUP’s ten MPs. One secret element of that deal may have been revealed when Brokenshire said a requirement for details of party donations in the North to be released would ignore those paid before July this year, drawing a legislative veil over secret donations to the DUP worth hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Sinn Fein indicated the talks could remain frozen for months. Party leader Gerry Adams blamed the failure of the talks on DUP intransigence. He said: “The reality is that the Sinn Féin electorate will not consent to being governed by the DUP on DUP terms. And we wouldn’t expect the DUP electorate to be governed or to consent to be governed by Sinn Féin on Sinn Féin terms.” Sinn Féin leader in the North, Michelle O’Neill, also blamed the Tories. She said: “What this constitutes is a monumental failure on behalf of Theresa May – she has set back decades of work that has been done here throughout the years. “And it’s a consequence – as we all know – of the DUP supporting the prime minister and, in turn, the prime minister supporting the DUP”.
Ms O’Neill also insisted her party’s Assembly members should continue to be paid. “Our people are here, our MLAs are here,” she said. “They are working and they will continue to work. We are very focused on wanting to make these institutions work and we are also very focused on delivering first class constituency services for all of our citizens.” She said that her party were focused on delivering rights that are available to citizens in other parts of these islands and added, “the reason we don’t see those rights afforded and the reason that Theresa May is sitting back and allowing that to happen is because she is in hock to the DUP”.