Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness says the DUP needs to “get real” on the current talks process.
The North’s Deputy First Minister says if Peter Robinson’s party is serious about tackling the growing crisis in the political process, then it should be at negotiations this week with the other parties and the Irish and British governments.
Mr. McGuinness was speaking after meeting EU leaders at the European Parliament in Brussels to brief them on the current challenges facing the political process.
He said: “I’m taking this opportunity to brief the party group leaders about the growing crisis in the political process in the North. The political institutions in the North established by the Good Friday Agreement have been undermined over the past number of years by the convergence of a number of factors.
“First, mainstream political unionism has shifted towards an anti-agreement position. Second, a partisan Tory-led British government is seeking to impose its policy of welfare and public service cuts on the North while pandering to a growing list of unionist demands. Alongside that, the Irish government, a co-equal guarantor of the agreements, has been focused on domestic economic issues.
“These three factors have encouraged anti-agreement unionists to frustrate the implementation of agreements, walk out of talks on the past, parades and flags and undermine the institutions by threatening to bring them down.
“We have consistently called on the Irish government to re-assert its role as a co-equal guarantor of the agreements and for the two governments to begin immediate, all-party talks and to re-engage the American administration.
“Both governments have now called for talks. The DUP leader had called for talks but now appears to be preparing to walk out of talks before they have even begun.
“Yesterday [Monday] they refused to stand by the agreement to appoint Mitchel McLaughlin as Speaker of the Assembly. This is yet another broken agreement. They are also seeking to deny the role of the Irish Government as co-equal guarantors of the agreements. The Irish Government has played a constructive role in each successful negotiation from Good Friday through to St Andrews and Hillsborough. This is a vain attempt to wind the clock back. This is unacceptable. It is unsustainable.”
Mr McGuinness said his party was entering the new talks in a bid to address the issues facing the political process; the need to honour agreements, the need for a working budget for the Executive and additional powers to safeguard public services and welfare for all our people.
“The leaders of Unionism, however, are seeking to hide from talks and avoid addressing the pressing issues facing all in our community,” he added.
“It is clear that the British Government’s partisan handling of these matters has encouraged unionists to undermine the agreements.
“Both the British Government and the DUP needs to demonstrate by word and deed that it is committed to the implementation of the agreements, to powersharing, and to equality.
“If the DUP is serious, it will be at the talks on Thursday with the rest of the parties and the two governments.
“What is required is an immediate start to all-party talks, free from preconditions and threats and the implementation of all previous agreements. The political institutions need to function as intended and agreed. Budgeting and fiscal powers need to be addressed and the issues addressed in the talks chaired by Richard Haass and Meghan O’Sullivan need to be dealt with.
“I believe that the full operation of all the agreed political institutions is the best way forward for all in our society. In my opinion, all can be resolved if the political will to do so exists. That requires positive forward-looking political leadership.
“At this minute, it is unclear if that leadership exists within Unionism or the British Government.”