BELFAST (Reuters) - Irish nationalists Sinn Fein said on Monday the money coming in to Northern Ireland from a pact by their pro-British rivals to prop up British Prime Minister Theresa May would not in itself help restore the province’s regional administration.
But Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said that it might help if it gave the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) confidence to do what his side deems necessary to restore power-sharing.
May struck the deal with the DUP to support her Conservative government in major votes, pledging at least 1 billion pounds ($1.3 billion) in extra funds to the province, a windfall DUP leader Arlene Foster said would bring the prospect of a political solution in the British province closer.
However Sinn Fein, who pulled out of power-sharing with the DUP in January, prompting an election and a series of missed deadlines to restore the regional assembly, said the issues that led to the collapse remain.
“I think not, no,” Adams said when asked if Foster’s deal boosting infrastructure, education and health spending in the United Kingdom’s smallest region would influence talks ahead of deadline in Belfast on Thursday.
“The Assembly (broke) down on issues which are mostly rights-based issues. As we stand here today, we are still in that position. If it (the deal with May) empowers the DUP, if it emboldens the DUP then to do what they should be doing then, yes that would be something very, very positive.”
Adams criticised some parts of the agreement - saying it provided a “blank cheque” for a Brexit -- Britain leaving the European Union -- that threatens peace in Northern Ireland. But he also acknowledged that the funds could help to ease “the enormous pressure” on public services.
Many analysts believe a deal that boosts funding while not damaging Irish nationalist interests could motivate Sinn Fein to agree to return to government.
Ireland’s foreign minister Simon Coveney said there were still significant gaps between Sinn Fein and the DUP. Northern Ireland risks reverting to direct rule from London for the first time in a decade if power-sharing is not restored.
May’s relying on the DUP to stay in power has been criticised for potentially putting the British government on one side of the power-sharing agreement.
But the agreement stated that the DUP will have no involvement in the British government’s role in political talks in Northern Ireland and that both parties would adhere fully to a 1998 peace deal that ended three decades of sectarian violence.
May’s wish that the province’s executive decide how to spend the funds put pressure on the two sides ahead of Thursday’s deadline, but a spokesman for May’s Conservative Party said that if it proved impossible to re-establish power-sharing, then the responsibility would fall to it and the DUP.
“I know who I’d like to do the spending,” said Colum Eastwood, leader of the smaller nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP).
“I’d like an inclusive executive that represents all of the people of Northern Ireland to be making sure that money is spent properly and for all of our benefit, and not being spent by a Tory party who seem to be under the thumb of the DUP. I think that’d be a very dangerous place for all of us.”
(This story corrects name of party in second paragraph to Democratic Unionist Party DUP)
Writing by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt