1. ITV Report

Sinn Féin and DUP clash over direct rule

Sinn Féin has warned that direct rule is not an option for Northern Ireland as the DUP called on the UK Government to start setting budgets for schools and hospitals.

As Sinn Féin headed into talks with the Irish government on the Stormont power-sharing crisis, DUP leader Arlene Foster was calling on Downing Street to start taking big spending decisions.

It comes after discussions between the two parties, aimed at restoring a devolved government in Northern Ireland, came to an end last week.

On Monday afternoon Mrs Foster said she had asked the Secretary of State Karen Bradley to set a budget and take key decisions on schools, infrastructure and hospitals.

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“School principals, hospital managers and infrastructure planners have been in limbo for months unsure of budgets and unable to get ministerial direction,” Mrs Foster said.

“I am not prepared to allow this to continue. Decisions need to be taken. We will be raising this issue again in Parliament tomorrow. I will also be meeting the Prime Minister later this week where I will affirm our commitment to devolution but not at any price.

“I wanted a devolved government. I stand ready to form one tomorrow without any pre-conditions. Sinn Féin has been refusing to form a government for over 400 days until they have their own party political matters addressed.”

All of us that believe that shared democratic institutions are the best answer for everybody in the north, and I understood that that includes the vast majority of unionism, then for all of us the very notion of a return to direct rule is a step backwards and not a step forward.

– Mary Lou McDonald, Sinn Féin president

Ahead of the Sinn Féin's meeting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney, president Mary Lou McDonald said direct rule “is not acceptable” and called on the British and Irish governments to convene the intergovernmental conference.

“We reached a draft deal with the DUP late last week and we’ve provided the text of that to both governments. We’re in the process of briefing the other political parties on the content of that draft deal,” she said.

“We are extremely disappointed that the DUP, having come so far could not get this deal over the line and so where we find ourselves now is a situation where all of the issues are still outstanding and need to be resolved.

"We don’t accept any call for any cooling off period, in fact we’re saying very clearly that there cannot be a vacuum, we need action and we need the two governments to be decisive at this point.”

Following the meeting with Sinn Féin, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar released a statement in which he reiterated his government's position that it does not want to see the introduction of direct rule.

He also said he spoke with Prime Minister Theresa May over the phone.

He said his government would continue to engage with the parties to support the urgent formation of a new Executive.

A No 10 spokesperson said:“Both leaders recognised the progress and serious engagement made by the parties.

“The Prime Minister said she believed there was scope for agreement and reiterated the UK Government’s priority was still to get devolution up and running again in Northern Ireland.

“They agreed to continue to stay in close contact as the parties reflect on the best way forward to re-establish devolved Government in Northern Ireland."

The Sinn Féin delegation plan to travel to London later in the week to meet the Prime Minister.

Secretary of State Karen Bradley is due to give an update in the House of Commons on Tuesday.