By Ahmet Gurhan Kartal
LONDON (AA) – Talks between Northern Ireland’s two biggest political parties on restoring a power-sharing government came to a standstill Wednesday, with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) saying there was “no prospect” of a deal.
DUP leader Arlene Foster called on the central UK government to take control, saying she could not accept a “one-sided deal”.
Foster said she was still committed to restoring a "sustainable" executive.
Since the March 2017 legislative assembly elections, Irish nationalists of the Sinn Fein party and pro-British unionists under the DUP have been unable to find common ground on divisive issues such as the introduction of an Irish language act and legacy issues inherited from decades of violence popularly known as ‘the Troubles’.
The previous local administration collapsed in January 2017 with the resignation of Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness over a botched energy saving deal. McGuinness died shortly after and was given a state funeral.
"For almost four weeks, we have been engaged in intensive negotiations with Sinn Fein. We have attempted to find a stable and sustainable basis for restoring devolution. Those discussions have been unsuccessful,” Foster said.
"Despite our best efforts, serious and significant gaps remain between ourselves and Sinn Fein, especially on the issue of the Irish language,” she added.
Foster rejected demands by Sinn Fein for an Irish language act – one of the key points during the talks.
"I have made it consistently clear that unionists will not countenance a standalone or free standing Irish language act. Sinn Fein’s insistence on a standalone Irish language act means that we have reached an impasse," she said.
Foster described the deal proposed by Sinn Fein as unfair and unbalanced.
The DUP lost support in the March 2 election but managed to remain the biggest party, with a single-seat margin in the Northern Ireland Assembly over Sinn Fein.
But the DUP performed strongly in a UK general election in June 2017. In an unprecedented political move, it has become a vital source of support for the UK’s Conservative Prime Minister, Theresa May.
Earlier this week, the British and Irish prime ministers travelled to Belfast and got involved in talks to restore the devolution government in the UK region.
After a series of high-level talks, May said: “While differences remain, I think there is the basis of an agreement here.”
She added the executive could be “up and running very soon”.
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said he is “very hopeful” of an agreement being reached this week.
Meanwhile, Sinn Fein’s leader in the Northern Ireland Assembly, Michelle O’Neill, said her party “engaged, we worked in good faith, we stretched ourselves”.
“We had reached an accommodation with the leadership of the DUP. The DUP failed to close the deal. They have now collapsed this process. These issues are not going away,” she added.
“Sinn Fein are now in contact with both governments and we will set out our considered position tomorrow. The DUP should reflect on their position.”