DUP leader warns Sinn Fein that restoration of devolution is ‘no game’

Arlene Foster has warned Sinn Fein that the restoration of devolution is “no game”.

The Democratic Unionist leader blamed Sinn Fein for the continued lack of self-government in Northern Ireland more than two years after the powersharing institutions collapsed in January 2017.

Mrs Foster made the comment while speaking to her party’s Spring conference in Omagh on Saturday.

It came less than 24 hours after the five local parties met with the British and Irish governments to discuss the resumption of political talks to revive Stormont.

There has not been a functioning devolved government in Northern Ireland since January 2017 following a breakdown in relations between the DUP and Sinn Fein over a botched green energy scheme.

The wrangle over the renewable heat incentive (RHI) was soon overtaken by disputes over the Irish language, the region’s ban on same-sex marriage and the toxic legacy of the Troubles.

Numerous attempts at talks to resolve the impasse have been unsuccessful.

Ulster powersharing
Northern Ireland has been without devolved government for two years. (Niall Carson/PA)

Following the talks on Friday, Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald dismissed the efforts as a “sham”.

The two governments are expected to produce proposals to restart the talks process.

On Saturday, Mrs Foster accused Sinn Fein of engaging in the “politics of ransom”.

“Two years ago Sinn Fein walked out of the Northern Ireland Executive. After the subsequent election in March 2017, Sinn Fein refused to enter the Executive or the Assembly until their shopping list of demands was ticked off,” she said, describing it as the “politics of ransom” and also “careless” pointing to how major decisions have been left to senior civil servants.

“The restoration of Stormont should not be about political brinkmanship or about party advantage. It should be about people.

Ulster powersharing
Sinn Fein slammed Friday’s talks as a sham (David Young/PA)

“Whether it is contracts not being awarded, reforms not being implemented or new laws not being passed – be in no doubt our constituents are feeling the pain. It cannot go on.

“Four of the five parties in Northern Ireland are ready to move on and restore the Assembly.

“One party stands as the blockage.

“I warn Sinn Fein today from this platform: this is no game.

“Whatever your demands about the Irish language, they do not trump the genuine and heartfelt demands of the good people up and down this country.”

Mrs Foster also made reference to the RHI scandal which has seen her party face questions and criticism over the role of its ministers and special advisers.

At DUP Spring conference in Omagh. Lovely to receive flowers from one of my local members before my speech! pic.twitter.com/3CWi7WVrEv

— Arlene Foster (@DUPleader) February 16, 2019

The renewable health incentive scheme was set up in 2012 to boost uptake of eco-friendly heat systems.

But huge subsidies left NI taxpayers with a £490 million bill.

An inquiry set up to examine what went wrong completed its public hearings last year, and is yet to publish its findings.

Mrs Foster said in the RHI Inquiry hearings, there were “lessons for us all”.

“I have already apologised personally for mistakes on my part and corporately for mistakes made by the party,” she said.

“The way of doing business can – and must – be changed.

“We are committed to that, but Sinn Fein still hold out narrow party political demands.”