herald

Saturday 21 September 2019

SF and DUP return to form with insults traded over airwaves

DUP leader Arlene Foster with Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill in St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast, before the funeral of Lyra McKee. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
DUP leader Arlene Foster with Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill in St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast, before the funeral of Lyra McKee. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

The leaders of the DUP and Sinn Fein spent the 24 hours after murdered journalist Lyra McKee's memorial service trading insults on the airways.

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said she would not "capitulate" on her key demands for power-sharing.

Meanwhile, DUP leader Arlene Foster claimed that her rivals were looking for "a 5-0 victory".

Behind the scenes, the British and Irish governments are working flat-out to open a line of communication between the two parties.

Sources said trust levels are very low and that a major breakthrough was not imminent.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said Sinn Fein's attitude was "unforgivable".

"It is increasingly clear that the public want the return of working politics," he told the Herald.

"But Mary Lou McDonald's performance demonstrates that the needs of the public continue to be secondary to the political strategy and internal direction of Sinn Fein."

Impasse

Ms McDonald was yesterday pressed on whether Sinn Fein would be willing to compromise on the issue of a standalone Irish act in a bid to resolve the impasse.

She replied: "If you're asking me are we going to capitulate on behalf of citizens in the North to people who wish to hold back progress in every form, to people who do not wish to make room for others in an open democratic society, then the answer to that is 'no'.

Murder victim Lyra McKee
Murder victim Lyra McKee

"We will not capitulate on that."

Ms Foster replied by suggesting that schools and hospitals are more important than the Irish language.

It is now more than 800 days since Stormont has functioned, but there were hopes that the words of Fr Martin Magill at the funeral of Ms McKee on Wednesday would spark the politicians into action.

Fr Magill's plea for leaders to get back to work has made headline news around the world, including in the United States and Australia.

"Why in God's name does it take the death of a 29-year-old woman with her whole life in front of her to get us to this point?" he asked.

Both Sinn Fein and the DUP said yesterday that they wanted to get the Assembly back up and running - but neither budged an inch from their entrenched positions.

Sinn Fein is demanding an Irish language act and new equality laws.

The DUP, however - which opposes a standalone Irish act and same-sex marriage - said that these issues should be discussed in a forum outside of the Assembly.

Ms McDonald said the cleric's message hit the nail on the head.

"He articulated in the clearest and most uncompromising way the fact that politicians, myself included, need to roll up our sleeves and we need to get cracking," she said.

However, the Dublin Central TD repeatedly refused to give any ground on the red lines being set down by her party for a return to power-sharing.

"There is nothing trivial in a society that's has been fractured by conflict, in a society where we need sustainable power-sharing, there's nothing trivial at all on insisting on equality and rights for every citizen. We stand by the Good Friday Agreement and we are not going to resile from that position," she said.

Ms Foster accused her counterpart of putting Sinn Fein demands above the demands of the people of Northern Ireland.

"The people of Northern Ireland have demands as well, and they are demands for a better healthcare system, they want their schools reformed, they want their infrastructure done," she said.

Amid the unseemly conflict, pressure has mounted on the two women from other political parties on the island.

Tanaiste Simon and Secretary of State Karen Bradley have been in frequent contact with key figures since the memorial service.

Despite concerns about the public disagreements, they will travel to Belfast this afternoon to finalise details for exploratory talks.

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