DUP leader Arlene Foster has this afternoon stated that there is “no current prospect” of a deal to restore power-sharing in Northern Ireland.
Despite high hopes to the contrary earlier this week, the DUP and Sinn Féin have failed yet again to reach an agreement during their negotiations.
An agreement to end the 13-month stalemate at Stormont hinges on an Irish Language Act.
DUP leader Arlene Foster issued the following statement.
“For almost four weeks, we have been engaged in intensive negotiations with Sinn Fein,” she said.
“We have attempted to find a stable and sustainable basis for restoring devolution. Those discussions have been unsuccessful.
“Despite our best efforts, serious and significant gaps remain between ourselves and Sinn Fein especially on the issue of the Irish language.
“I have made it consistently clear that unionists will not countenance a stand alone or free standing Irish Language Act. Sinn Fein’s insistence on a stand alone Irish Language Act means that we have reached an impasse.
“As far back as last summer, I outlined my party’s willingness to reach an accommodation on language and cultural issues.
“However, I indicated that any such accommodation must be fair, balanced and capable of commanding support on all sides of our community. At the moment, we do not have a fair and balanced package.
“After the Assembly election, I embarked on an engagement exercise with those who love and cherish the Irish language.
“I respect the Irish language and those who speak it but in a shared society this cannot be a one-way street. Respect for the unionist and British identity has not been reciprocated.
“In our view, there is no current prospect of these discussions leading to an Executive being formed.
“It is now incumbent upon Her Majesty’s Government to set a budget and start making policy decisions about our schools, hospitals and infrastructure. Important decisions impacting on everyone in Northern Ireland have been sitting in limbo for too long.
“I had dearly hoped that we could have restored an Executive and local Ministers could have taken those decisions. That is not possible at this time. Northern Ireland is best governed by local Ministers who are accountable to local people.
“Restoring a sustainable and fully functioning devolved government will remain our goal but we will not accept a one-sided deal. “Any agreement to restore the Executive must be on a sensible basis.
“We cannot and will not be held to ransom by those who have refused to form an Executive for over thirteen months.”
Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill added: “Sinn Féin over the past 13 months worked to restore the institutions on the basis of respect, integrity and equality for all sections of society.
“When this latest round of talks was announced in January, I said a short, sharp and focused negotiation was required to resolve the outstanding issues of rights and equality available everywhere else in the islands.
“Sinn Féin 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.
“Sinn Féin are now in contact with both governments and we will set out our considered position tomorrow.
“The DUP should reflect on their position.”
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood expressed his disappointment at the statement.
He said: “We have to get back to working together. We have to not allow this moment to be the destruction of all that we have achieved.
“Equally we can’t allow this British government or this DUP to think that they are going to govern Northern Ireland on their own. That cannot be allowed to happen.
“The spirit which underpins the Good Friday Agreement is one that recognises we have two communities here, two nationalities, two sets of allegiances and we have to have that recognised in anything that goes after this.
“It’s easy to pull this place down. It’s not that easy to put it back together again.”
Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann called for further clarity.
He said: “We need to know and what Northern Ireland clearly needs to know, is the door to devolution now firmly closed or is there still a possibility of it being open?”
“If Her Majesty’s government needs to bring in a budget now, let them do it.
“They have done it before. So if they need to run a budget so be it, let’s get on with it and let’s do what we can to get Northern Ireland back up and running again.”