Politics

Stormont talks: DUP ‘under no illusions’ over SoS briefing

Stormont with a no entry traffic signImage copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Stormont has been without a devolved government since January 2017

A DUP MLA has said the party was under no illusions about the purpose of a briefing at Stormont, despite criticism by three party leaders.

Christopher Stalford was speaking after all five parties met with Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood described it as “a waste of time” while UUP leader Robin Swann said it was box ticking.

Relations between the parties and Mrs Bradley were “possibly at an all-time low”, said Alliance leader Naomi Long.

Northern Ireland has been without a government since it collapsed in January 2017.

The latest talks process aimed at restoring devolved government fell apart in February.

Mr Stalford, who attended the meeting along with DUP party colleague Peter Weir, was asked about some of the criticism the other parties levelled at Karen Bradley.

“It’s not for Karen Bradley or anyone else to encourage Sinn Féin out of their corner,” he said.

He added that the briefing document that set out how the legislation passed at Westminster was not ideal, but there was no alternative.

Thursday’s meeting was described as an all-party briefing with a view to restarting the talks process.

However, three of the party leaders strongly criticised it when speaking to reporters at Stormont.

Image caption Naomi Long said relationships between the parties and Karen Bradley were possibly at an “all-time low”

It is understood the parties were presented with a document that suggested early 2019 as the earliest date for starting a new talks process.

Naomi Long said that was “unacceptable”.

Several of the parties also reiterated their call for an external, independent mediator to be appointed to chair the process, but the Ulster Unionist Party said that would not solve the problems between the DUP and Sinn Féin.

Ms Long said Karen Bradley was “putting barriers in the way of restoration” by “demanding there is consensus, all-party agreement on the format of the talks”.

“This is absolute nonsense,” she said.

“The secretary of state has already taken the views of all parties regarding how talks should be structured, the responsibility now lies with her to make a decision to convene the talks and to get us back in the room.”

Talks on ice with no thaw in sight

By Jayne McCormack, BBC News NI political reporter

If the phrase things always get worse before they get better rings true, then today at Stormont was a perfect example of that.

The language used by the parties during their press conferences in the Great Hall was more negative and critical than we’ve heard for a long, long time.

One talks source said they threw their briefing paper from the NIO into the bin – that tells you just how much they thought of it.

As the weather turns colder, relations between the parties seem to have gone into deep freeze too.

But can Karen Bradley do anything to hit the defrost button?

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the meeting was a “waste of time” and signalled an “embarrassing day” for Karen Bradley.

“I think I probably should have stayed in Derry,” he said.

“The secretary of state says she needs to see consensus for what a talks process will even look like,” he added. “Well, that’s not how it works.

“How it works is the two governments, when this process fails, step in, they agree a talks process, they make it time bound, they have an independent chair and they have a threat at the end of it that if the parties do not come to an agreement, then they will implement the changes that are required to get us back to government.”

‘Belligerence’

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said the meeting was “badly advised”.

“To be honest, it was simply so someone in the NIO (Northern Ireland Office) can tick a box so they can say they brought all five parties around the table,” he added.

He said that the parties received a briefing on the “bill that was through Westminster that everyone’s already read”.

Mr Swann also accused Sinn Féin of complete belligerence that “questions their validity as to whether they want to be part of a meaningful talks process”.

He added that an independent chair would not solve the differences between the DUP and Sinn Féin.

Image caption Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said the briefing was a box-ticking exercise

“An external mediator doesn’t bring together the five parties, only the government can do that.

“The government needs to establish a talks process that the five parties are involved in.

“And we can’t wait on five-party consensus as to what that talks process looks like because, as I said this morning, all five parties couldn’t actually agree what that meeting was or what it should be called.”

Sinn Féin said there was no basis for moving forward following the meeting.

John O’Dowd and Máirtín Ó Muilleoir said they attended a meeting to see if power sharing could be re-established but that it was “clear” the British government was “still treating large sections” of Northern Ireland with contempt.

They refused to answer any questions from the media.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-46061166

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