Government ‘will not move to restore powersharing until after May polls’

The Government will make no further efforts to restore Stormont powersharing until after May’s council elections, Sinn Fein has said.

Party vice president Michelle O’Neill said Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley had also confirmed her intention to activate a five-month extension to her legal obligation to call a fresh Assembly election.

The two politicians discussed the powersharing impasse on the phone on Wednesday morning.

Under legislation introduced last year, Mrs Bradley is theoretically under a legal duty to call an election if devolved ministers are not in place by the end of March.

But the laws, which also included measures to make it easier for civil servants to make decisions in the absence of ministers, incorporated an option to extend that deadline by five months.

Mrs O’Neill said Mrs Bradley told her that would be triggered in Westminster on Thursday.

She accused the Conservative MP of holding the region to ransom, and prioritising her party’s confidence and supply deal with the DUP over the needs of local people who have been without a government for more than two years.

Karen Bradley
Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley is theoretically under a legal duty to call an election if devolved ministers are not in place by the end of March (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

“She (Mrs Bradley) will move forward with her legislation, she is going to lay it on Thursday, that legislation will buy her another five months,” said Mrs O’Neill.

“What purpose does that serve? Will it be to do more of the same? Because for the past two years Karen Bradley and her Government have done absolutely nothing to have a successful outcome to any process to restore powersharing, and this has all been about their relationship with the DUP.”

Mrs O’Neill added: “She phoned to confirm that they aren’t going to make any effort whatsoever until after the local government elections in order to try to restore powersharing.

“She was talking about uncertainties in the political situation – obviously, Brexit being the reason behind that.

“I told her I didn’t accept that. I told her that wasn’t good enough, that her Government has prioritised its relationship with the DUP, it’s prioritised its own survival over having locally elected institutions here up and running and serving the people.

“If you characterise the last two years, it’s been a do-nothing approach from this Government, and since the Tories became so reliant on the DUP then the British Government have had a hands-off approach – ‘let’s do nothing, let’s make no effort whatsoever’.”

The republican leader added: “We are all being held to ransom because of the Tories’ survival and because of the Tories’ position on Brexit, which is being supported by the DUP.”

Stormont crashed in January 2017 when the last DUP/Sinn Fein led coalition imploded amid a row about a botched green energy scheme.

That dispute later widened to take in issues such as the Irish language, LGBT rights and the legacy of the Troubles.

A number of efforts to negotiate a resolution to the long-running logjam have ended in failure.

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