LONDON (AP) — Talks to restore Northern Ireland’s collapsed government have failed after weeks of intense talks, the leader of the region’s major Protestant party said Wednesday.
Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster said negotiations with Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein to restore the power-sharing government that fell apart more than a year ago “have been unsuccessful.”
“In our view, there is no current prospect of these discussions leading to an executive being formed,” said Foster, who was first minister in the collapsed administration.
Northern Ireland’s Catholic-Protestant government has been suspended since January 2017, when it broke down amid a scandal over a botched green energy project.
The impasse has left 1.8 million people without a government and threatens power-sharing, the key achievement of the 1998 peace accord that ended decades of violence in Northern Ireland.
The two parties have blamed one another for the stalemate, and the rift over the energy scheme has widened to broader cultural and political issues separating Northern Ireland’s British unionists and Irish nationalists.
Sinn Fein demands for Irish-language protections emerged as the main sticking point. Foster said Wednesday that the DUP was willing to “to reach an accommodation on language and cultural issues.” But she said Sinn Fein’s demand for an Irish Language Act was not “fair and balanced.”
Foster’s surprise statement came just two days after the British and Irish prime ministers visited Belfast and said the two parties were close to a deal.
British Prime Minister Theresa May said Monday “there is the basis of an agreement” to restore the power-sharing government in Northern Ireland.
Civil servants have run the government in Northern Ireland since the administration collapsed. Foster said British government ministers in London should now “set a budget and start making policy decisions about our schools, hospitals and infrastructure.”