Sinn Fein refusing to nominate a deputy first minister could put peace at risk, says DUP leader Edwin Poots

If Sinn Fein refuses to nominate a deputy first minister by next week they will be risking peace in Northern Ireland, DUP leader Edwin Poots has said.

Monday, 14th June 2021, 10:36 am
Updated Monday, 14th June 2021, 10:53 am

Mr Poots was speaking as the deadline for Sinn Fein to nominate a deputy first minister approaches next week.

Should Sinn Fein fail to do so the assembly would be unable to reform, after the exit of First Minister Arlene Foster.

And in the context of the discussion Mr Poots said he did not want to see a return of loyalist rioters to the streets of Belfast, as seen at Easter this year.

DUP Leader Edwin Poots says peace could be at risk. Mark Marlow/PA Wire
DUP Leader Edwin Poots says peace could be at risk. Mark Marlow/PA Wire

Sinn Fein has been pressing for the DUP to sign off on an Irish Language Act before they nominate their deputy first minister to take office alongside the DUP nomination of Paul Given.

There has been widespread speculation that the assembly could fall if Sinn Fein’s demands are not met by next week.Mr Poots said this morning: “We had riots on our streets in Belfast this year. I don’t want to see that returning. And I have a significant fear that there is a lot of tension in the community as things stand and therefore any failure in politics will almost certainly ensure that that street politics takes over.

“And not only are Sinn Fein jeopardizing people’s health and economic outlooks, they could potentially be jeopardising the very peace that we enjoy at this moment in time should they choose not to nominate. So choosing not to nominate is a massive step.”It was put to Mr Poots on the Nolan Show this morning that it would be precarious for the assembly to fall ahead of this summer and that it was imperative to bring forward Irish language legislation.

“That is something I will work with Sinn Fein on in terms of the cultural aspects of the [New Decade New Deal] agreement,” he replied.

Asked why he would not sign off on it now, the DUP leader said there were also unionist cultural issues to be worked out in tandem with Irish language legislation.

“There are issues there that would be of benefit to unionism and we would be sure that they will be enacted within that, because they are all part of one package and we will happily continue to engage with everyone to ensure that those are brought forward in a timely manner.”

Asked if he was refusing to make any guarantees ahead of the nomination deadlines next week, he declined to put any timescale on the issue.

“The guarantee that we are making is that we are committed to New Decade New Approach which includes the cultural provisions and that we are committed to implementing the cultural provisions, but it just does not happen to be our number priority.

“Our number one priority is health. Our number one priority is jobs and our number one priority is peace.”

Pressed on whether he should be “risking the assembly over some brinkmanship” on Irish language, he denied he was engaging in such.

“I am not engaging with any brinkmanship. I have indicated that I will nominate my first minister and it is for Sinn Fein to nominate a deputy first minister. If they wish to engage in brinkmanship then they should come onto this programme - and indeed other programmes - and indicate why and they haven’t done that [made a nomination for deputy first minister].”

He suggested that the tensions may be caused by a bit of “kite flying” by the unnamed Sinn Fein source who is reportedly saying the party will withdraw from reforming the assemly if their Irish language demands are not met.Mr Poots said it was significant that it was reportedly an an unnamed Sinn Fein source who is alleged to be making the threats and not an official party spokesman or elected representative.Mr Poots said that by contrast, he discussed the Irish language legislation with Conor Murphy last week and that the Sinn Fein minister did not make any ultimatums on the matter.

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