Stormont talks: Sinn Féin proposes resumption date
Sinn Féin’s northern leader Michelle O’Neill has written to the UK and Irish governments proposing a formal resumption of the Stormont talks.
She has suggested Monday 28 August for parties to get back around the table to try to restore power sharing.
The Democratic Unionist Party’s (DUP) Simon Hamilton described the proposal as a “stunt” and said his party was ready to form an executive months ago.
NI has been without a functioning devolved government since January.
The coalition led by the two biggest parties, the DUP and Sinn Féin, collapsed over a green energy scandal.
Formal talks were suspended without agreement at the start of July.
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Mrs O’Neill said the latest round of talks should be “focused and time-limited”.
“With limited engagement since the talks concluded on 4 July, I am keen to formally re-engage at the earliest opportunity in order to re-establish an executive and power-sharing institutions on a proper and sustainable footing,” she said.
“Moreover, I do not believe there is much public appetite, or need, for another drawn-out phase of talks.”
However, Mr Hamilton accused Sinn Féin of holding Northern Ireland to “ransom” over less-than-critical issues on a “political wish-list”.
“The DUP are not saying that we shouldn’t be dealing with issues like Irish language, like other cultures as well,” he said.
“But we should be doing those in parallel with forming a government.
“The DUP would go up to Stormont this morning and form a government to deal with those difficult issues that there are around health, education and the economy, which we believe are more important than the ones that Sinn Féin are stalling the restoration of an executive on.”
The most significant sticking points between the two main unionist and nationalist parties are disagreements over an Irish language act, same-sex marriage, a bill of rights and measures to deal with the legacy of Northern Ireland’s Troubles.
There is little chance of progress in a new talks process if Sinn Féin approaches it “with their red lines in place”, according to Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann.
“In the time since the last process was parked we have continued to engage with civic society,” he said.
“It is clear from these meetings that the voluntary and community sector, business, trade unions, student unions, health charities and many more all share our frustration at the lack of progress to date.”
Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister said he does not want to see a return what he described as “pantomime season” at Stormont.
“We need government – if, as is obvious, we can’t get it from failed Stormont, then it must be provided from Westminster,” he added.
“Turning the key on Stormont may be painful for its payroll hangers-on but, frankly, I’m not sure the public will really notice – has anyone really missed it over the last six months?”
Northern Ireland’s institutions collapsed amid a bitter row between the DUP and Sinn Féin over the DUP’s handling of an inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal.
In January, the late Martin McGuinness, of Sinn Féin, resigned in protest, triggering a snap election in March.