At 4.00 pm on Wednesday, St Valentine’s Day, DUP leader Arlene Foster tweeted there is “no current prospect” of a deal to restore power sharing in Northern Ireland.
— Arlene Foster (@DUPleader) February 14, 2018
The day before her party had complained that Monday’s visit by the Prime Minister Theresa May and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar had been an unhelpful distraction.
The late Ulster Unionist Party leader Jim Molyneaux often expressed a similar sentiment about summit style negotiations which he called “high wire” acts, suggesting they were more about the spectacle than the substance.
Mrs Foster said the disagreements were over a “stand alone” Irish Language Act which she could not sell to her party’s rank and file or grassroots membership. What was on offer had been one-sided and not inclusive, she said.
Sinn Féin had demanded legislation to give the Irish official status in Northern Ireland.
One of the compromises on the table had been to come up with a face-saving legislative fudge that included measures for Ulster-Scots.
But Mrs Foster said they had reached an impasse: “I respect the Irish language and those who speak it but in a shared society this cannot be a one-way street. Respect for the unionist and British identity has not been reciprocated.
In our view, there is no current prospect of these discussions leading to an executive being formed.”
Sinn Féin’s leader in Northern Ireland and the party’s newly-installed Deputy President Michelle O’Neill was swift to accuse the DUP of having “collapsed” the talks process.
She said her party had “reached an accommodation with the leadership of the DUP” but claimed that the DUP then “failed to close the deal”.
She said Sinn Féin was now in direct contact with both the British and Irish governments and would, after a while, set out its “considered position” some time on Thursday.
SDLP Leader @ColumEastwood reacts to the political situation at Stormont.
— SDLP (@SDLPlive) February 14, 2018
Leader of the smaller SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said Northern Ireland parties must resist any return to direct rule from Westminster, with “the DUP having the whip hand”.
He said he was “disappointed” and “angry” at the failure of the DUP and Sinn Féin to strike a deal to restore power-sharing.
Northern Ireland’s parties must “not allow this moment to be the destruction of all that we have achieved”.
“We can’t allow this British government, or this DUP to think that they’re going to govern Northern Ireland on their own – that cannot be allowed to happen.
“The spirit which underpins the Good Friday Agreement is one that recognises that we have two communities here, two nationalities, two sets of allegiances and we have to have that recognised in anything that goes after this.”
“So we will be making it very, very clear to anybody who will listen that this cannot be direct rule with the DUP having the whip hand, but it looks to me, today, this is what these negotiations are about to deliver – that has to be resisted at all costs.”
UUP leader Robin Swann asked if this now meant the door to devolution was now firmly closed. While his party wanted devolution, he thought the British government should get on with preparing a budget for Northern Ireland.
The leader of Alliance Party, Naomi Long, said: “We are in a very precarious situation at this point in time, we are essentially in unchartered territory.”