DUP urged to grasp 1998 peace deal ‘goodwill’ and return to Stormont

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The DUP has been urged to grasp the goodwill being shown to Northern Ireland during the Good Friday Agreement commemorations and restore the powersharing institutions at Stormont.

Sinn Fein MP John Finucane said the executive needed to come together to speak with a united voice to the Treasury about budget difficulties in the region.

But DUP MLA Emma Little-Pengelly said that powersharing could only be restored on the “right foundations” and added that action by the UK Government was needed to bring Stormont back.

The remarks come ahead of an address by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to close a major three-day conference to mark the 25th anniversary of the 1998 peace accord which largely brought an end to the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Good Friday Agreement 25th Anniversary
Sir Tony Blair, former US president Bill Clinton and former taoiseach Bertie Ahern have been among those taking part in a conference to mark the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement (Niall Carson/PA)

Irish premier Leo Varadkar and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will also address the conference on Wednesday.

While celebrating the achievement of the 1998 accord, the conference has also seen repeated words of encouragement to restore the Stormont Assembly, which has been collapsed for the last year amid a DUP boycott over post-Brexit trading arrangements.

Mr Finucane told the BBC Good Morning Ulster programme that he wanted to see the democratic outcome of last year’s Assembly elections, in which Sinn Fein emerged as the largest party, respected.

Mr Finucane was asked about a leaked Northern Ireland Office briefing paper which recommends revenue-raising measures such as water charges and higher tuition fees should be the focus of future Stormont budgets.

He said: “The key in this is the need for a restored executive because nobody is under any illusions that there are very tough decisions to be made.

“The need for all of that requires an executive and that united voice going to the British treasury and asking for the funds that are necessary.”

Good Friday Agreement 25th Anniversary
Emma Little-Pengelly said Stormont could only return with the ‘right foundations’ (Niall Carson/PA)

“I think it is important that we put across our position, we have been very clear that we want to see devolution restored, but it has to be restored on the right foundations,” she told the BBC Nolan Show.

She added: “We need to address what it was that broke this in the first place.

“The Secretary of State (Chris Heaton-Harris) knows that, he knows what needs to be done.

“Quite frankly, making speeches and having digs is not going to resolve this, what is going to resolve it is talking with each other, it is action by the UK Government, there is a pathway to getting Stormont back.

“Our plea to everybody is to get on with that.”

The Government insists the DUP concerns have been addressed by the new trading deal it struck with the EU, the Windsor Framework.

But Northern Ireland’s largest unionist party has insisted the Government needs to provide it with further legal assurances on sovereignty and the application of EU law in Northern Ireland.

The final day of the Belfast conference will see Mr Sunak vow to “give everything” to deliver the vision of sustained economic growth and tackle the problems of a divided society in Northern Ireland.

Mr Sunak will then later host a gala dinner, attended by political leaders, international dignitaries and leading charities.

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