LONDON (Alliance News) – Political parties in Northern Ireland should “look beyond differences” and a find a last-minute solution to their six-month power-sharing impasse, the British government urged on the penultimate day before the deadline for talks.
“The overriding priority for the UK government in Northern Ireland remains the restoration of devolved power-sharing government in Stormont,” Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire told parliament, referring to the seat of Northern Ireland’s devolved government in Belfast.
“But time is short,” Brokenshire said. “I would urge all concerned to use the narrow window that remains to look beyond their differences and to see that an executive is formed.”
Brokenshire has warned that the territory could face direct rule by London unless an agreement is reached by Thursday.
Asked by fellow Conservative lawmaker Victoria Prentis if a return to direct rule “would be a huge backward step,” he agreed, adding that “an inclusive executive, acting in the best interests of Northern Ireland, is profoundly what Northern Ireland needs and what the people voted for.”
British Prime Minister Theresa May and her Irish counterpart, Leo Varadkar, discussed Northern Ireland by phone late Tuesday ahead of Thursday’s deadline.
“They confirmed their joint commitment to restore a Northern Ireland executive as soon as possible and agreed to engage closely, and work with the parties in Northern Ireland, to bring back political stability and a strong voice at Stormont,” May’s office said.
Both sides said they also discussed Monday’s agreement for Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party to support May’s minority government in votes in the British parliament in London.
Critics said a deal with the DUP could jeopardize Northern Ireland’s fragile peace?process and reduce the British government’s ability to play a neutral role in talks.
The power-sharing executive, under which the DUP has worked with the rival Irish Republican party Sinn Fein since 2007, collapsed in January after DUP leader Arlene Foster refused to cede to Sinn Fein’s demands to step aside while a failed renewable heating incentive scheme was being investigated.
Most observers do not expect a breakthrough before the deadline.
Declan Kearney, Sinn Fein’s national chairperson, said there had been “absolutely no progress made in relation to any of the substantive issues that go to the very heart of this political crisis.”
“There has been no serious resolve by the DUP to see these matters progressed,” Kearney said in a video statement late Tuesday.
He said there had been “no movement” on the key issues of rights for Irish-language speakers, LGBT?rights, and the enactment of a bill of rights. Kearney said the British government was “not a neutral bystander” in the talks.
By Bill Smith, dpa