Northern Ireland

Arlene Foster: 'Serious negotiations' to restore NI devolution

Arlene Foster was speaking on BBC's Sunday Politics from Portrush, where The Open golf tournament is being staged
Image caption Arlene Foster was speaking on BBC's Sunday Politics from Portrush, where The Open golf tournament is being staged

"Serious negotiations" are taking place to try to restore devolution at Stormont, the DUP leader Arlene Foster has said.

Northern Ireland has been without a government since 2017, when the DUP and Sinn Féin split in a bitter row.

A new talks process began on 7 May to try to end two and a half years of deadlock.

Mrs Foster said her party will be involved in discussions at Stormont this coming week.

Speaking on the BBC's Sunday Politics programme, Mrs Foster said the DUP had also spent all of last week in party political negotiations.

However, it is understood a round-table talks session was cancelled on Thursday.

Mrs Foster denied suggestions that the negotiations were no longer a five-party process, but added that the smaller parties recognise that the DUP and Sinn Féin have the most significant "gaps to resolve".

She said she wanted a future executive to be made up of the five main parties.

The DUP leader also commented on a move by MPs last week that will see same-sex marriage extended to Northern Ireland and abortion laws liberalised if devolution is not restored by 21 October.

Her party is socially conservative and opposes a change in the law on both issues.

'Insidious clause'

Mrs Foster was among politicians who signed a letter to the prime minister calling for the decision on abortion to be reversed.

She described it as the most "insidious" clause in the Northern Ireland Bill, arguing that the matter should remain devolved and that she did not believe a majority of people in Northern Ireland would support the change.

"I don't believe there is any support at all to go to a situation where you would have abortion up to 28 weeks," she added.

Mrs Foster said she had spoken to Sinn Féin vice-president Michelle O'Neill about the issue.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption MPs have backed amendments which require the government to extend same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland if devolution is not restored

The DUP is due to renew the confidence-and-supply pact it shares with the Conservative Party, when the new prime minister takes office this week.

The arrangement was signed in June 2017 after the general election, to give the government a working majority in the Commons.

Mrs Foster reiterated that her party will continue to do business with the government.

The DUP is opposed to the current withdrawal agreement, and wants the new prime minister to negotiate a different Brexit deal.

It believes the backstop - the insurance policy to avoid a hard border between NI and the Republic of Ireland - would create a trade border down the Irish Sea and threaten the integrity of the union.

'Trying to look tough'

On Sunday, the Tánaiste (deputy prime minister) Simon Coveney dismissed suggestions that could work and said if a no-deal outcome occurs on 31 October, it will have been a "British choice" that damages stability in Northern Ireland.

Mrs Foster said she was "disappointed, but not surprised" by what Mr Coveney had said, and accused him of trying to "look tough" in the eyes of the incoming prime minister.

The DUP has said it does not want the UK to leave the EU without a deal, but believes ruling out no-deal would damage the UK's negotiating hand.

"It's a long way to the 31st of October.. the withdrawal agreement is bad for Northern Ireland and the union and we're looking to change that," said Mrs Foster.

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