South Down MP Margaret Ritchie (SDLP) has questioned the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland following his statement in the House of Commons following the collapse of All-Party Talks at Stormont yesterday.
Margaret Ritchie said: “Political engagement, partnership and power-sharing government are vital to the future of Northern Ireland.
“The Sinn Fein/DUP Executive’s failure to produce a budget has left schools, hospitals and third sector groups without any clear indication of their finances beyond the next few weeks and months.
“It is clear that the majority of parties have no confidence in the Secretary of State’s ability to chair the talks. The Prime Minister and An Taoiseach must now be directly involved in the reconvened talks and give their full attention to getting the institutions back up and running and working for the people of Northern Ireland.”
In a statement last Sunday, the Rt Hon. James Brokenshire, NI Secretary of State, said: “Three weeks ago the people of Northern Ireland voted overwhelmingly for effective, devolved, power sharing government.
“Since then I have been working intensively with the political parties and with the Irish government to find a way forward, including putting forward a number of proposals
“I am determined to see a functioning Executive in place at Stormont. I have spoken to the Prime Minister this afternoon and this remains the UK government’s continuing priority.
“This is the necessary first step to addressing the issues of greatest public concern – health, education and other public services in Northern Ireland.
“Even at this stage I urge political parties to agree to work to form an Executive and provide people here with the strong and stable devolved government that they want.”
Mr Brokenshire has shown his preference for an agreement to bring back the Assembly, indicating that Direct Rule would be his last option. Neither did he show any interest in an other Assembly election. Speaking outside Stormont House yesterday minutes after the 4pm ‘deadline’, he indicated that there was still some wriggle room for Sinn Féin and the DUP to reach a workable compromise and he would be working at this in the coming weeks.
But unless the two main parties thaw out on their significant differences over equality and victims issues, and find a resolution to an approach to deal with the RHI issue, then the Assembly will not kickstart. The situation is at the cliff-edge and at the moment, resolution is not looking likely. Sinn Féin is digging in its heels and the DUP is saying Sinn Féin demands are unrealistic.
The grave situation now requires not a ‘facilitator’ as Brokenshire has indicated, but a skilled team of professional mediators who can bring both parties to a position where they can respect and understand their differences and possibly find common ground to build on.