Accusations of Sinn Fein destabilisation strategy 'untrue, absurd and illogical'

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Sinn Fein has said it is absurd and illogical to accuse the party of pursuing a chaos strategy over the political deadlock in Northern Ireland.

Michelle O'Neill, the party's leader at Stormont, said progress is possible on the Assembly stalemate and she is ready to restart formal negotiations with the Democratic Unionists, other parties and the UK and Irish Governments.

She called for immediate, short, sharp and focused talks.

In a speech to Sinn Fein representatives, Ms O'Neill hit out at accusations that the party does not want the institutions restored in Northern Ireland and that it has a strategy of political destabilisation and is attempting to maximise electoral prospects in the Republic.

"These assertions are not only untrue, but are patently absurd, illogical and do not stack up," she said.

Ms O'Neill said Sinn Fein's strategy was premised on effective and functioning government and that the party was fully committed to the Good Friday Agreement and the Stormont institutions.

Fianna Fail in the Republic and the Alliance Party and the Green Party in Northern Ireland have all questioned whether Sinn Fein has adopted a so-called "chaos" strategy in its approach to the deadlock in power-sharing.

Ms O'Neill said: "The Sinn Fein and DUP leaderships have for more than a week now been engaged in intensified dialogue to determine whether political progress is possible.

"We do believe progress is possible and are therefore ready to re-engage in formal negotiations together, and with the other parties and both Governments, to try and reach agreement in a short, sharp and focused negotiation.

"This process should begin immediately."

Amid the months-long impasse, Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire warned he may have to legislate for a Stormont budget to fund the under-pressure health service and other public responsibilities if the deadlock continues.

The British Government also said there can be no joint authority over Northern Ireland.

The statement was issued after Ireland's Foreign Affairs Minister, Simon Coveney, said there were still grounds for optimism over the preliminary power-sharing talks in Belfast and direct rule should still be avoided.

"There can be no British-only direct rule. That is the Irish Government's position.

"It would be very difficult to even contemplate how direct rule would function in that context.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said engagement with Sinn Fein has stepped up over the last week and that there has been detailed engagement over a number of days to assess if a deal is possible.

"We intend to continue with a further series of bi-laterals with all of the other parties to determine whether agreement can be reached in the short time available," she said.