N. Ireland Politics

Sinn Féin acted disgracefully over Stormont talks - DUP

Arlene Foster and DUP colleagues Simon Hamilton and Nigel Dodds Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Sinn Féin had behaved in an "incredibly bad way", claimed the DUP leader Arlene Foster

Rebuilding trust between Stormont's two main parties is going to take "an incredibly long time", according to the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader.

Arlene Foster said Sinn Féin's behaviour after talks to restore power sharing in Northern Ireland collapsed in February was "quite disgraceful".

Sinn Féin claimed on Thursday that the government's Westminster deal with the DUP was the "greatest obstacle" to restoring devolution at Stormont.

Mrs Foster said that was "crazy talk".

The parties were speaking after they held separate meetings with the Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley.

They were billed as exploratory meetings, with one Stormont source calling them "talks about talks".

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption The DUP has "checked out" of power sharing, according to Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill

Mrs O'Neill said she had not had a "real, meaningful engagement with the DUP" since the last round of talks collapsed.

"The DUP have checked out of power sharing," she added.

"That is an approach that is being pandered to by the British government."

'Quite disgraceful behaviour'

She said the government's confidence and supply pact with the DUP was causing problems at Stormont.

The agreement was struck between Prime Minister Theresa May's minority Conservative government in order to win support from the unionists in key votes in the House of Commons.

"Therein lies the greatest obstacle... to have an executive that's functioning for all of our citizens," said Mrs O'Neill.

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Karen Bradley's talks with the parties took place at Stormont House in Belfast

But Mrs Foster rejected that, saying that Sinn Féin acted in an "incredibly bad way" when it published what it said was a draft agreement between it and the DUP.

"Therefore the building up of trust, I think, is going to take an incredibly long time and is going to take actions," she added.

"It's about time that they recognised the role they had in terms of the breakdown."

She said there had been a "shattering of trust" between republicans and unionists as a result of the Sinn Féin's "actions".

'Enraging the public'

The discussions at Stormont House on Thursday come more than two months after the DUP and Sinn Féin failed to reach an agreement about restoring the region's devolved administration.

The blame game between the two parties began as soon as the discussions ended.

Image caption Karen Bradley has said that restoring devolution in Northern Ireland is her top priority

They had been locked in negotiations in a bid to end the then 13-month stalemate at Stormont.

In the aftermath of the collapse of the talks in February, Ms Bradley signalled that a deal remained possible, saying that he believed "the basis for an accommodation still exists".

Speaking on Tuesday, Colum Eastwood, the leader of the SDLP, said he feared that any new talks process "would go nowhere", leaving the public "even more enraged".

Ulster Unionist Party leader Robin Swann said he believed time was "running out for devolution in Northern Ireland".

Naomi Long, the Alliance Party leader, accused the UK and Irish governments of adopting a "hands-off" approach to Stormont.

He added that he was doubtful whether any progress could be made on the issue before a key EU summit about Brexit in October.

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