Thursday 5 December 2019

Five things you need to know about today's powersharing talks involving May and Varadkar

Leo Varadkar and Theresa May head powersharing meeting at Stormont
Leo Varadkar and Theresa May head powersharing meeting at Stormont
Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley (left) welcomes Prime Minister Theresa May to Stormont in Belfast where they will meet the main political parties as they continue talks aimed at ending the 13-month political stalemate. Niall Carson/PA Wire
Photo: ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

THE power-sharing institutions in the North have been effectively moth-balled for more than a year.

There have been no MLAs in the Northern Assembly and civil servants have been running the show amid fears that a failure to re-establish the Executive will result in direct rule from Westminster.

During that time there has been no voice for Northern Ireland in crucial Brexit talks.

Political leaders from Dublin, London and the North are gathered in Belfast today and there is hope that a deal is on the cards. Here’s what you need to know:

How long has this been going on?

Today marks the 400th day since the Northern Ireland Assembly collapsed after a row about a controversial renewable heat scheme – the so-called ‘cash for ash’ controversy. The late Sinn Féin politician Martin McGuinness resigned as deputy first minister over DUP leader and then-first minister Arlene Foster’s handling of the issue.

Why the delay in getting the power-sharing institutions back up and running?

While the renewable heat issue has taken a back seat, there have been other sticking points. Assembly elections last year failed to bring about progress in resolving the impasse and the snap election in the UK likely added further delay. There have been a number of missed deadlines for concluding talks.

What are the sticking points?

Efforts to re-establish the Executive and Assembly are currently focussed on issues like Sinn Féin’s demand for an Irish Language Act, dealing with legacy issues relating to the Troubles, and the North’s continuing ban on same-sex marriage.

Why is it thought there will be progress now?

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British Prime Minister Theresa May aren’t in Belfast for nothing. There’s a belief that talks are moving towards a solution if Dublin and London are represented at the highest level.

Also, Sinn Féin’s new deputy leader Michelle O’Neill said at the weekend she expects talks to conclude this week.

What happens then?

If there is a deal Arlene Foster would be elected as first minister and Michelle O’Neill would assume the deputy first minister role previously held by Mr McGuinness.

MLAs would return to Stormont to resume their work.

Online Editors

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