DUP and Sinn Fein edge closer to power sharing deal
British Prime Minister Theresa May welcomes efforts of all sides after a day of dialogue with Irish counterpart
The British and Irish prime ministers met political leaders in Belfast on Monday, as the two main parties in Northern Ireland edged closer to unlocking a political stalemate that has left the province without a government for more than a year.
British Prime Minister Theresa May and her Irish counterpart, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, held talks with the main parties in Northern Ireland’s collapsed power-sharing administration: the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party and the Irish republican Sinn Fein.
Mrs May said: “Today I have been meeting the leaders of the main parties involved in the talks and I have urged them to make one final push for the sake of the people here in Northern Ireland.
“It has been 13 long months since we last saw devolved government here, and I think we are now at the point of where it is time for the locally elected representatives to find a way to work together and to deal with and tackle the many pressing issues facing Northern Ireland.
“I have had full and frank conversations with the parties. I’ve also met with the Taoiseach.
“And while some differences remain, I believe that it is possible to see the basis of an agreement here. There is the basis of an agreement and it should be possible to see an executive up and running in Northern Ireland very soon.
Northern Ireland’s Catholic-Protestant power sharing government has been suspended since January 2017, when it broke down amid a scandal over a botched green energy project. The rift soon widened to broader cultural and political issues, with Sinn Fein's demand for Irish-language protections seen as the main sticking point by unionists.
After a day in which Sinn Fein and the DUP met the British and Irish leaders, but not each other, both said that progress had been made.
“Good progress has been made and we will continue to work towards more progress,” said DUP leader Arlene Foster, whose party keeps Mrs May’s Tories in power in Westminster.
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said: “We believe we are close to an agreement,” adding: “We are not exactly there just yet.”
"This is now a decisive phase of the process," she said. "This is the week for decision time."
The British prime minister paid tribute to both parties, saying “the DUP and Sinn Fein have been working very hard to close the remaining gaps. But I would also like to recognise the contribution of other parties here in Northern Ireland, too.
“What I am clear about is that we are all fully committed to doing everything we can to support this process – and as far as Westminster is concerned we stand ready to legislate for the re-establishment of an executive as soon as possible after an agreement.”
The two parties have blamed each other for the impasse that threatens power sharing, the key achievement of Northern Ireland's 1998 peace accord that ended decades of bloodshed.
Several UK deadlines to restore the Northern Ireland's devolved government have passed without success, raising the possibility that Westminster might impose direct rule.
Updated: February 13, 2018 08:28 AM