Video: Eastwood welcomes talks process but is against 'flexible deadlines' and wants to be back in government next week
A new talks process aimed at restoring power-sharing will be announced today by the Secretary of State, Karen Bradley, and the Tánaiste Simon Coveney, a week after the murder of Lyra McKee but SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has warned them it must not be based on 'flexible deadlines' and said he wants to be back in government next week.
Mr. Eastwood was speaking at the launch of the SDLP Local Government manifesto in The Playhouse in Derry this afternoon following a meeting with the Secretary of State earlier in the day.
"I'm glad that the Tánaiste and the Secretary of State are going to announce a talks process today but let me make this very clear to them in public as I have in private: it will not be enough if we have flexible deadlines that go on and on and on and on.
"If we just continue, as is what happened yesterday, when the DUP and Sinn Féin did interviews and just repeated their positions on all of the issues that we all know about. That's not enough, it's not good enough anymore, the public are totally sick of it," he said.
The SDLP leader repeated his call for the suspension of the 'petition of concern', a mechanism which, if triggered by 30 or more MLAs, can stipulate that a controversial proposal must earn cross-community rather than just simple majority support at Stormont.
Mr. Eastwood the 'petition of concern' should be suspended for the remainder of the current Assembly, which is three years, while a parallel review of the mechanism is undertaken.
In the meantime, he said, the political parties should get back into government and legislate for same-sex marriage and Irish language rights next week.
"I will put a draft piece of legislation with the Speaker the very day we get back into government. We'll do it for marriage equality. It's there. It's written. We were about to do it the day the Assembly collapsed and other people will support that as well.
"There is a majority for that. There are majorities in the Asssembly for other rights-based legislation.
"Thats how it's done. It's not done by stamping our feet and standing outside and waving flags at each other."
However, Mr. Eastwood's hopes for a return of power-sharing next week may be overly-optimistic with the Taiseach Leo Varadkar and the British Prime Minister Theresa May, saying talks would only be likely to commence after the Local Government elections next week.
In a joint statement the Irish and British premiers said: “We have agreed to establish a new process of political talks, involving all the main political parties in Northern Ireland, together with the UK and Irish Governments, in accordance with the three stranded process.
"The aim of these talks is quickly to re-establish to full operation the democratic institutions of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement - the NI Executive, Assembly and North-South Ministerial Council - so that they can effectively serve all of the people for the future.
“We have asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Tánaiste to meet later today in Belfast to set out our proposed approach and to commence the talks process as soon as possible after the local elections in Northern Ireland.
“In addition, we have agreed that there should be a meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference during the same period. The Conference will consider East/West relations, security cooperation, and political stability in Northern Ireland.
“We understand the complexity of the underlying concerns of all parties, and the need for renewed trust, mutual respect, generosity and new thinking to resolve the issues.
“As Prime Minister and Taoiseach, we are determined to work together to ensure this process comes to a successful conclusion.
“We will review progress at the end of May.”