Northern Ireland

Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill says NI talks 'should not stop for summer'

Michelle O'Neill
Image caption Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill criticised the performance of the secretary of state who is chairing the talks

The latest round of talks to restore devolution in Northern Ireland should not be suspended for the summer, Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill has said.

She was asked to respond to speculation that the cross-party talks, which began on 7 May, could be paused shortly.

Mrs O'Neill said the process so far has been "tinkering round the edges" and has not addressed the real problems.

However, DUP leader Arlene Foster later tweeted that Sinn Féin "expect everyone else to accede" to their demands.

Mrs O'Neill also said talks chair Karen Bradley had "failed left, right and centre" in her role as secretary of state.

Appearing on BBC Northern Ireland's Sunday Politics, the Sinn Féin vice president said talks should continue until a deal is reached.

She said any suggestion of a suspension was "just speculation".

"It's not something which the governments have discussed with any of the parties, they certainly haven't talked about it with us.

"I think the process itself has been constructive to a point, but it hasn't actually crunched down and actually dealt with the issues which we need to deal with in order to restore the institutions."

Asked if her party would attend a summer drinks reception at Stormont House on Tuesday, which is to be hosted by Mrs Bradley, she replied: "Absolutely not."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Arlene Foster said Sinn Féin's demands "needs to change"

"I think it's fairly typical of Karen Bradley and her whole approach to citizens here.

"Throughout her tenure in office as secretary of state, she has failed even to give any pretence of impartiality.

"She has failed in terms of her understanding of our politics and our people; she has failed the historical institutional abuse victims; she has failed the victims of the past; she has failed left, right and centre in my opinion."

Arlene Foster later tweeted that Sinn Féin's demands "needs to change so we can get agreement which respects all parts of our divided society".

She added: "We continue to engage to find agreement. We need to build a cohesive NI, not one built on separation."

Image caption Secretary of State Karen Bradley was appointed to the post in January 2018

Mrs Bradley has previously faced criticism after admitting she did not understand traditional voting patterns in Northern Ireland before she took the job of secretary of state.

Last month, she was also accused of using survivors of historical abuse as "a blackmail tool" in the political process.

The secretary of state denied the accusation and explained victims' compensation had been delayed as local politicians had to be consulted on plans for the redress scheme.

Mrs Bradley is currently chairing cross-party talks involving Stormont's five biggest parties and representatives from the Irish government.

The Sinn Féin vice president told Sunday Politics a "summary document" on the talks would be released next week, but claimed it would not cover all the issues which have to be addressed.

"We have to deliver marriage equality, alongside an Irish language act, alongside an anti-poverty strategy - all the things that have been outstanding from previous commitments."

Mrs O'Neill said dialogue was the only way to resolve the parties' difference and called for talks to continue until a deal is reached.

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney and NI Secretary Karen Bradley have urged the parties to reach a deal

When the talks were launched, the British and Irish governments said there was a narrow window of opportunity to reach a deal and said progress would be reviewed by June.

At the beginning of the month, the governments said that talks had reached a new, "intensified" stage.

But the following day it was reported that a round-table session at Stormont had lasted an estimated 25 minutes.

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