British Government needs to get real with DUP, says Sinn Fein

Sinn Fein has said the British Government needs to “get real” with the DUP after meeting Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith.

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald and MLA Conor Murphy met Mr Smith in Dublin as he travelled to the Irish capital for meetings with political figures on issues around Brexit and the powersharing impasse at Stormont.

Ms McDonald said the confidence and supply arrangement with the DUP has hindered the Tories’ ability to negotiate neutrally with the Northern Ireland majority party, and claimed the Conservatives instead seek to “placate” the DUP because of their influence in Westminster, rather than hold meaningful talks on restoring a government in Northern Ireland.

“Julian Smith says the Prime Minister wants to have powersharing restored, and if that’s the case then they need to get cracking and need to get real,” Ms McDonald said.

Julian Smith
Julian Smith (David Young/PA)

“They say that it (restoring powersharing) is priority, but you would imagine if something is a priority they would move heaven and earth to make it happen, and we’re certainly not convinced that the British Government have carried the load or used their influence with the DUP to ensure that solutions are delivered. This is the frustrating thing.”

Stormont has been in cold storage for more than two and half years due to a stand-off between Sinn Fein and the DUP on issues such as Irish language legislation and a ban on same sex marriage.

Hopes for a new set of talks were sparked following the funeral of murdered journalist Lyra McKee in April, but Ms McDonald said that although talks are ongoing, nothing substantial is expected any time soon.

“We still are in a situation where the DUP are not demonstrating the necessary appetite to embrace solutions to issues to get the assembly back up and running, and neither are the British Government in terms of restoring powersharing or indeed agreeing or embracing the backstop to protect the island of Ireland,” Ms McDonald added.

“Not being unkind to the man (Mr Smith) – the reality is that any British secretary of state or Tory coming here… they don’t have the same skin in the game in terms of Irish interests that other people who have been elected here have.”

Conor Murphy
Conor Murphy (Niall Carson/PA)

Ms McDonald said some points were discussed with Mr Smith, but these did not include whether the DUP would accept a Northern Ireland-only backstop, as had been reported in the last few days.

“I don’t know is the short answer,” she said.

“I have heard the speculation that they will revert to those provisions but certainly the Secretary of State hasn’t given us that impression, much less confirmed that.

“We told him if he has any notion to misuse the institutions in the North as a bargaining chip or buffer in that then he’s barking up the wrong tree.”

Sinn Fein said it is looking any upcoming general election at Westminster as “an opportunity for all of us to show that Northern Ireland voted to remain”.

Ms McDonald did not rule out having the party stand aside in the hotly contested South Belfast seat for another pro-remain candidate to take a greater share of the vote against the incumbent DUP MP.

“We will look at every possible and plausible mechanism to maximise the pro-remain vote. We haven’t landed on firm conclusions but that conversation is under way,” she said.

Sinn Fein, the SDLP, Alliance and the Green Party have all said publicly they are willing to explore options for the upcoming election to maximise the number of pro-Europe MPs in Westminster to vote against any possible no-deal Brexit plans.

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