Northern Ireland Power Sharing Talks Collapse

Attempts to restore power sharing in Northern Ireland have today collapsed without a deal being obtained. The failure to reach agreement comes after over a year of talks and is thought to have been based around disagreements over the Irish language and same-sex marriage. Northern Ireland will continue to be governed directly from Westminster until a settlement can be found.

Arlene Foster, the leader of the DUP, said:

“For almost four weeks, we have been engaged in intensive negotiations with Sinn Féin. 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 Féin, especially on the issue of the Irish language”.

Michelle O’Neill, representing Sinn Fein, blamed the DUP, saying:

“We had reached an accommodation with the leadership of the DUP. The DUP failed to close the deal. They have now collapsed this process”.

Karen Bradley, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, said in a statement:

“Both parties have conducted discussions seriously and in good faith. While substantive progress towards an agreement has been made, it appears that this phase of talks has reached a conclusion. I would urge everyone to reflect on the circumstances which have led to this and their positions, both now and in the future.

The position of the UK Government remains the same: devolved government is in the best interests of everyone in Northern Ireland and is best for the Union. I believe the basis for an accommodation still exists. As the Prime Minister said during her visit on Monday, we are ready to bring forward legislation to enable an Executive to be formed.

We will continue to work with everyone to make sure we do deliver this. We now need to consider practical steps. In the continued absence of an Executive, other challenging decisions will have to be taken by the UK Government. I will update Parliament when the House returns from Recess next week”.

Owen Smith, the Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, said:

“This is desperately disappointing news, especially as there had been widespread hope last week that a deal might be reached. It seems clear, however, that the cause of the breakdown was the DUP’s unwillingness to accept legislation to support the Irish language or marriage equality. Their lack of leadership on these issues, despite their powerful position in Stormont and Westminster, leaves Northern Ireland without an accountable government or a voice in the Brexit negotiations.

Karen Bradley will now have to explain how she hopes to get the DUP back to the table, and if that proves impossible, how she is going to take forward issues such as equal marriage, as well as dealing with tough decisions on health, education and infrastructure that have been left unresolved for over 400 days”.

DUP to Vote Against Government on NHS Pay

Arlene Foster, the leader of the DUP, has confirmed that her party intends to vote with the Labour Party on amendments relating to NHS pay and tuition fees. The vote, which is expected to take place next week, would be the first time that the DUP have failed to support the Government since the coalition which was formed following the 2017 General Election.

The votes will not be binding on the Government, meaning that the official agreement between the Conservative Party and the DUP won’t be broken.

Government Confirms that it Will Seek Parliamentary Approval for £1 Billion DUP Deal

Gina Miller

The Government has confirmed that it will seek Parliamentary approval for the £1 billion deal that was reached between the DUP and the Conservative Party following the 2017 General Election. The deal agreed by Theresa May, the Prime Minister, and Arlene Foster, the leader of the DUP, ensured that the Conservative Party had a sufficient majority in the House of Commons .

Gina Miller, who also funded legal challenges on Brexit, called for the Government to ensure that Parliament would be allowed to vote on the matter. In a statement she said:

“It beggars belief that, neither at the time the government sealed its dubious deal with the DUP in exchange for their votes in the Commons, nor at any point since, has the government made it clear that the £1bn of taxpayers’ money for Northern Ireland could only be handed over following parliamentary approval”.

Northern Ireland Assembly Temporarily Suspended over Arlene Foster Statement

The Northern Ireland Assembly has been briefly suspended this morning after disagreement over a statement that was to be made by Arlene Foster, the First Minister. Foster was to make a statement on the Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme (RHI) which has proved controversial and went significantly over-budget.

Due to power sharing arrangements in the Province the office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister have joint responsibility for the Northern Ireland Executive. Martin McGuinness, the Deputy First Minister, has said that he does not support the making of the speech made by Foster.

The Assembly was suspended for thirty minutes after most Assembly members walked out of the chamber, with the exception of the DUP, the party led by Foster. When it reconvened there were a string of point of orders to Robin Newton, the Speaker of the Assembly. Newton responded that the Northern Ireland Executive had authorised the speech, even though the Deputy First Minister had withdrawn his support.

The speech that the First Minister was making related to RHI which was a scheme introduced in November 2012 to encourage an increase in renewable energy. The Minister at the time responsible for the introduction of the scheme was Arlene Foster, who is now the First Minister. The cost of the scheme cost £1 billion and Foster admitted to “a catalogue of mistakes which resulted in a perfect storm”. She accepted “full responsibility” for the scheme and said that she wanted to respond to the Assembly at the earliest stage, even without the approval of the Deputy First Minister.

The Treasury will contribute £600 million to finance the scheme, but the Assembly will have to fund £400 million from its block grant over the next twenty years. This will mean that £20 million will now be spent on the failed scheme every year, although Foster has said that she intends to reduce the total cost of the scheme.

Theresa Villiers Condemns Act of Terrorism in East Belfast

villiers

Theresa Villiers, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, has condemned the placing of an explosive device under a serving prison officer’s car.

The explosion on Hillsborough Drive has seriously injured the 52 year old prison officer.

Villiers said:

“I utterly condemn this vicious attack on a prison officer in East Belfast.

Like all his colleagues in the prison service, this officer serves the whole of the community, in stark contrast to the people who carried out this appalling and violent crime.

I strongly urge anyone with information about this murder attempt to contact the police to help bring those responsible to justice”.

Arlene Foster, the Leader of DUP, said:

“Disgraceful and despicable attack in East Belfast”.

Peter Robinson, the Northern Ireland First Minister, has stood down

Peter Robinson, the First Minister of Northern Ireland and leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), has stood down after weeks of disagreement in the Province. The crisis started following the murder of Kevin McGuigan, who was a former member of the IRA, when the Police Service of Northern Ireland said that the IRA were implicated in his killing.

Robinson said in a statement:

“The failure of the SDLP and Sinn Fein to implement the Stormont House Agreement together with the assessment from the Chief Constable of the involvement of IRA members in murder, the continued existence of the IRA and the arrests that followed has pushed devolution to the brink”.

Downing Street said in a statement:

The Prime Minister is gravely concerned about the situation in Northern Ireland following developments there today.

“Earlier this afternoon, the Prime Minister spoke with Peter Robinson. While acknowledging the gravity of the situation, the Prime Minister told Mr Robinson that the UK Government did not believe it would be right to introduce emergency legislation now to suspend the Assembly.

They discussed options for what more the UK Government could do to comprehensively address all remaining paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland.

The PM underlined the need for intensive cross party talks to identify ways to tackle all paramilitary groups and to get on with implementation of the Stormont House Agreement

The Prime Minister said that there should be a return to the spirit that had seen politicians show such leadership over the years to deliver a peace process that has inspired people across the world.

The Government objective is clear: we want to work with political leaders for a Northern Ireland where politics works, the economy grows and which is no longer defined by its divided past but by its shared future”.

Arlene Foster, the current Minister for Finance in Northern Ireland, has taken on the role of acting First Minister.