Powersharing talks must not be privatised, says Eastwood

Negotiations to restore powersharing must not be “privatised” by the DUP and Sinn Fein, the SDLP leader has warned.

Colum Eastwood criticised previous talks initiatives for being dominated by the two larger parties and excluding the voices of his party, the Ulster Unionists and Alliance Party.

He said any bilateral side process between the DUP and Sinn Fein would not work.

“I think the mistake has been made over the last couple of years that this process has been privatised between the DUP and Sinn Fein,” he said.

“The strategies that have been employed by those two parties up to now haven’t worked, so I think it’s time for a re-think.”

He said politicians on the campaign trail for the local and European elections had heard a stark message from the voters.

“I think any of us who have been knocking doors over the last few weeks, and some of us have more doors to knock, will understand what the public are saying,” he said.

“Yes, they have strong views on all the big issues, but they also want us to deal with the issues in the health service, the education system, Brexit, the economy, and they want us to do it in government.

“None of those things will be solved by standing outside and shouting at each other, so this is an opportunity for those of us in these talks to listen to what the public have told us.

“I think they want us to get back to work, to come back together, to remember the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement.”

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said the latest process must not be just “window dressing”.

“What we need to actually get to this set of talks is to sort out a governance structure that doesn’t give a veto to one party that can simply crash democracy in Northern Ireland because of their will,” he said.

“I think today is a start of what we’ll see for the rest of this talks process.

“If today is simply window dressing then we’re wasting our time and insulting the people of Northern Ireland; if this is simply five parties sitting round a table again to re-establish red lines, we’ve let the people of Northern Ireland down, and if those parties who come in with red lines established are sticking by them, then they are letting the people of Northern Ireland down.”

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long said her party was ready to work to get devolution up and running.

“With respect to the talks process today, we are glad first and foremost that we are re-engaged around the table, it has been a long time coming,” she said.

“We believe there is a short window of opportunity in which we can actually deliver devolution again here in this building.

“That will require all parties to make compromises, it will require all parties to really focus their attention intensely over the next few weeks.

“We’re up to that task and we want to ensure that we get devolution and delivery happening.”

Mrs Long added: “It’s not about putting a sticking plaster over a gaping wound.

“It’s about doing the reform that is required so that we can restore devolution that’s sustainable in the long term.

“People have given us a strong message after the last weekend, they want devolution.

“It’s up to all parties to deliver what they’ve asked for.”