24 January 2018
Speaking ahead of talks, DUP Leader Arlene Foster MLA said,
“The DUP was ready to form a government last March after the Assembly election. It is deeply disappointing that one party has blocked the establishment of a local Executive. The DUP has no red lines nor pre-conditions. We would like the see devolution restored and like any normal legislature, work through the difficult issues in tandem with a working Executive.
No Ministerial leadership in Departments has delayed key decisions and reforms impacting on our schools, hospitals and infrastructure. This should not be about party political shopping lists or anyone losing face, this should be about people. People who want and deserve better roads, schools and hospitals. Northern Ireland cannot afford to drift through 2018 without Ministers. I would find such a situation intolerable.
It is welcome that all the parties have reentered the talks. I hope this latest phase will be able to secure the restoration of devolution. The Secretary of State should emphasize that if devolution cannot be restored, then the Government will appoint Direct Rule Ministers to make the decisions which are currently sitting in limbo.
The DUP has played a full part in every set of discussions since the election. We have a mandate for our position and we will honour that mandate. Any outcome should be fair and balanced. Those who wish to use their position to deliver cultural domination over one side of the community are mistaken. Our structure of government will not work by one side looking to ‘win’ over the other. That has always been my approach.
I know that the Irish language is precious to a great many people in Northern Ireland. I would never do anything nor support any proposals which would limit anyone’s ability to speak or use it. That’s why in the last Assembly term, the Executive allocated some £170m to support the Irish language.
I have engaged with many of those who love and cherish the Irish language from all over the UK and Ireland. We do not see the need for stand-alone legislation which is exclusive to the Irish Language. There are multiple languages and cultures in Northern Ireland, we should seek to embrace and support that diversity. Legislation also comes at a cost. We have to weigh up those costs against the ongoing pressures in our health service and other concerns over vital public services in Northern Ireland.
Last August, I outlined a compromise solution but sadly it was rejected within minutes by Sinn Fein despite receiving support and being commended in London and Dublin.
In recent weeks, I have travelled all across Northern Ireland. People want a stable local government. One of the core elements of the talks should focus on making the devolved institutions more sustainable. It is entirely sensible to guard against future collapses. Such a reform is not about undermining previous agreements but about laying a better foundation for the next generation to build on.
In this phase of the talks, we will work with the other parties, Her Majesty’s Government and on those matters of mutual concern, we will talk to the Irish government. I enter the talks in a positive spirit and I trust others will do likewise. This should not be about party political shopping lists but about restoring fair and stable government for everyone.”