'No prospect' of Northern Ireland deal as talks between DUP and Sinn Fein break down

Aubrey Allegretti, Political Reporter

Talks between the leaders of Northern Ireland's two biggest political parties to re-establish a government in Stormont have broken down.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said there was "no prospect" of negotiations leading to a new powersharing agreement with Sinn Fein.

She announced in a statement on Wednesday: "In our view, there is no current prospect of these discussions leading to an executive being formed.

"It is now incumbent upon Her Majesty's Government to set a budget and start making policy decisions about our schools, hospitals and infrastructure.

"Important decisions impacting on everyone in Northern Ireland have been sitting in limbo for too long.

"I had dearly hoped that we could have restored an executive and local ministers could have taken those decisions. That is not possible at this time."

Ms Foster added the DUP would not be "held to ransom" and that "serious and significant gaps" remain between both sides on the issue of an Irish Language Act.

Michelle O'Neill, Sinn Fein's leader in Northern Ireland, responded in a statement that the party had worked to restore an executive "on the basis of respect, integrity and equality".

She said: "Sinn Fein engaged, we worked in good faith, we stretched ourselves.

"We had reached an accommodation with the leadership of the DUP. The DUP failed to close the deal.

"They have now collapsed this process. These issues are not going away."

She added that the DUP should "reflect on their position".

The announcement will come as a major blow to the UK Government, after Theresa May and Irish premier Leo Varadkar visited Belfast on Monday to urge for a "final push" in talks.

Ms Foster called the PM's trip a "distraction", with DUP chief negotiator Simon Hamilton doubling down on the snub, saying: "I don't think it was entirely helpful towards us reaching a sensible conclusion."

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson failed to mention Northern Ireland or the post-Brexit border issue once in a speech responding to people's concerns about leaving the EU hours earlier.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he "regretted" the breakdown in talks.

"I very much regret the statement from the DUP.

"Power sharing and working together are the only way forward for Northern Ireland," the Irish Prime Minister said.

"The Tanaiste and the Secretary of State are in close contact and we will continue to confer with the British Government about the next steps."

It is 13 months since Northern Ireland's devolved government collapsed.

Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness resigned in January 2017 in protest at Ms Foster's refusal to stand down as First Minister over a botched renewable energy scheme.