Stormont talks: Foster sets out proposal for NI Assembly return

Arlene Foster

Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Arlene Foster has proposed an immediate restoration of devolved government in Northern Ireland along with a parallel, time-limited process to deal with issues around culture and language.

Mrs Foster described it as a “common-sense solution” to the ongoing power-sharing deadlock.

She was speaking at a party meeting in Belfast.

In June, talks between parties failed to restore a power-sharing executive.

If the parties fail to reach an agreement, Mrs Foster said, then direct rule from London would be the only option.

Mrs Foster said that more talks would be a “waste of time unless there is some new thinking”.

She said that the executive should be restored immediately so that ministers can deal with ongoing pressures in areas such as health and education.

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Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams says that without a stand-alone Irish Language Act, there will be no new assembly

At the same time, she said, parties should “agree to bring forward legislation to address culture and language issues in Northern Ireland within a time-limited period to be agreed”.

Mrs Foster warned that failure to do this “in a way that commands cross-community support” would lead to direct rule from London.

Northern Ireland has been without a functioning devolved government since January, when the coalition led by the two biggest parties, the DUP and Sinn Féin, collapsed over a botched green energy scheme.

The late deputy first minister, Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness, stood down in protest against the DUP’s handling of an investigation into the scandal, in a move that triggered a snap election in March.

One of the major sticking points in talks to restore devolved government has been Sinn Féin’s demand for an Irish Language Act.

Earlier this week, Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams said there would be no Northern Ireland Assembly without an Irish Language Act.

On Thursday, Mrs Foster acknowledged the need to deal with culture and language, but those matters “should not have a greater priority than health or education or the economy”.

“We have nothing to fear from the Irish language not is it any threat to the Union. However what we cannot and will not do is simply agree to one-sided demands,” she said.

Mrs Foster also accused Sinn Féin of building “a barrier to the return of Stormont”.

“I question whether Sinn Fein is serious about wanting to see an early return of Stormont. This is not an unreasonable question given some of the recent comments from Gerry Adams.”

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Sinn Fein said they are committed to making the institutions work.

Sinn Féin’s NI Assembly leader Michelle O’Neill rejected the DUP’s proposal.

Mrs O’Neill said the DUP proposal showed they haven’t acknowledged the reasons behind the collapse of the Assembly.

“Establishing an Executive that may collapse after a matter of months on the same issues will only fail all our people,” she said.

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