Monday 16 July 2018

UK government to announce final round of talks in bid to restore powersharing in Northern Ireland

Simon Coveney shakes hands with Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley
Simon Coveney shakes hands with Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

A final round of talks aimed at restoring Northern Ireland Assembly are to begin next Wednesday

The UK government will today announce support for a “short, intense set of political talks” between all five of the main Stormont parties, including the DUP and Sinn Féin.

Northern Ireland Secretary of State Karen Bradley will describe the negotiations as the last opportunity to resurrect the devolved institutions in Belfast.

And a spokesperson for Tánaiste Simon Coveney confirmed: “There’s a window that exists here but it’s not endless. We believe a deal can be reached.”

He said it has taken “a lot of work from the parties and governments” to get to the point where talks can recommence.

A year on from the collapse of the Executive, relations between the DUP and Sinn Féin hit a new low earlier this month.

However, the resignation of Sinn Féin MP Barry McElduff over a video in which he appeared to joke about the Kingsmill massacre and a conciliatory speech by Arlene Foster in Killarney have helped move the situation forward.

Proposals to protect Irish language speakers, the ban on same-sex marriage and a lack of consensus on how to deal with the legacy of the Troubles remain key areas of disagreement.

In her announcement at Stormont House, Ms Bradley is expected to state: "What has quickly become clear to me is that time is short and one last opportunity to reach agreement remains.

"Over the past eight months the political parties, particularly the DUP and Sinn Fein, have made progress in closing the gaps existing between them on a range of difficult issues that have prevented the formation of an Executive.

"The gaps are narrow but there are still significant differences to overcome.

"Based on my conversations so far, I believe it is possible to reach agreement.

"A short, intense set of political talks to restore the Executive will therefore commence on Wednesday January 24.

"These will involve the five main parties, the UK Government and, as appropriate, the Irish Government in accordance with the well-established three-stranded approach.

"The people of Northern Ireland cannot continue to have their public services suffer by the lack of an Executive and without ministers making key policy and budget decisions."

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