Stormont Talks End in Failure

The current round of Stormont talks have ended in failure today. I will leave it to the comments section below to debate the finer points but here is a summation of the parties statements and comments.

NI Secretary, James Brokenshire;

I am not therefore in a position to introduce the legislation necessary for an Executive to be formed this week though I must stress we are continuing to work with the parties as they proceed with ongoing talks.

“As I have outlined previously there are consequences to not being able to bring forward this legislation this week. It is responsibility of the parties to form an Executive to take forward its own Budget, but it is now very unlikely that an Executive will be in place within a timetable to pass a budget by the end of November, which is the point at which we and the Northern Ireland Civil Service assess that Northern Ireland will begin to run out of resources.

“No Government could simply stand by and allow that to happen.

“I am, therefore, now taking forward the necessary steps that would enable a Budget Bill to be introduced at Westminster at the appropriate moment in order to protect the delivery of public services in Northern Ireland.

“I would expect the Budget Bill to be considered in Parliament after the short November recess, but I will be returning to Westminster to update MPs.

“Subject of course to Parliamentary approval, the effect of this would be to give the Northern Ireland Civil Service certainty to plan for the rest of this financial year by giving the necessary legal authority to spend to existing plans.

“The Budget Bill will deal only with 2017-18 and would incorporate figures provided by the Northern Ireland Civil Service reflecting their assessment of the outgoing priorities of the previous Executive.

“I also want to be clear that passing a Budget in Westminster does not mean a move to direct rule … any more than the passing of legislation to set a Regional Rate did in April.

Then we had the Sinn Fein Leader in the North, Michelle O’Neill;

“The British Secretary of State has said that he is not in a position to bring forward legislation to re-establish the Executive this week.  That is true.  Why is that so?

“It is in part because of Mr Brokenshire’s tolerance of the DUP’s blocking of the equality agenda, the reneging on past agreements and recent financial scandals.  This led to the erosion of confidence in the political institutions and Martin Mc Guinness’s resignation in January after ten years in office.

“Over the last ten months, the focus of these negotiations has been on the delivery of rights which are the norm everywhere else on these islands. Many of these rights are fundamental parts of the Good Friday and other agreements. They are for the benefit of all sections of society and threaten no-one.  Furthermore, marriage equality, language rights, the Bill of Rights and the right to Coroners Inquests are supported by a majority in the Assembly and in wider society.

“The only reason they are denied is because of DUP resistance to the rights agenda and the British Government’s acquiescence in this. That has been compounded by the Tory-DUP pact.  The British Secretary of State is wrong when he says that it only the parties themselves who can reach agreement, he and the Irish Government also have obligations.

“The issue of rights is not going to go away. The DUP and British Government know this.  These rights must be satisfactorily dealt with.  Sinn Féin is disappointed that the last few weeks of negotiations have ended in failure. We did our best to be flexible and we were prepared to stretch ourselves in the common good.

“Endless talks without conclusion are not sustainable.  There is a need for the two governments to act urgently to deliver equality. This is their joint responsibility under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

For the DUP, Gregory Campbell;

SF collapsed our devolved government over ten months ago. They then produced a shopping list of preconditions before they would re-establish an Executive.

For ten months, SF has blocked key decisions being taken about Northern Ireland’s infrastructure development and reforms in our health and education services. For SF to then complain about the speed of progress, is nothing short of rank hypocrisy.

The DUP stands ready to form an Executive today. We want devolution. Arlene Foster has led our Talks team and is rightly frustrated that government is being held back by a narrow political agenda. We received an overwhelming mandate to ensure any deal was fair. That mandate has to be respected, just as we respect the mandate of others.

Decisions being taken in the House of Commons instead of at Stormont is not what we want but civil servants must have a legal basis to spend money.  That is why the Secretary of State needs to set a budget. SF’s opposition to this is foolish.  Day-to-day services should not be disrupted because of the Irish Language.

With regard to an Irish Language Act, it already receives ample public funding for those who wish to speak it or learn it. It already is catered for in ways that no other minority language is. We cannot and will not be party to an agreement that elevates the Irish language not only above all others, but above health, education and other vital public services.

David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs

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