Wednesday 21 August 2019

Northern parties in power-sharing vow as talks get under way

Cheery: Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy, Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill arrive at a rainy Stormont ahead of talks. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA
Cheery: Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy, Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill arrive at a rainy Stormont ahead of talks. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA

David Young

Northern Ireland's political leaders have vowed to strive for a deal to restore power-sharing as a fresh talks process began at Stormont.

The leaders of the five main parties acknowledged mounting public impatience and anger at a stalemate that has left Northern Ireland without a functioning devolved government for more than two years.

They held a short round-­table meeting at Stormont House yesterday afternoon for the first exchanges of a new talks process initiated by the Irish and UK governments.

During the meeting, Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley and Tánaiste Simon Coveney outlined the format for the latest bid to resolve the impasse.

The process will involve agenda-setting and stock-taking meetings between the five leaders and two governments at least once a week, with five working groups set up to focus on the detail of key disputes at the heart of the deadlock.

The tone of the preliminary meeting was understood to be more harmonious than the last gathering of the party leaders in the winter. Afterwards, DUP leader Arlene Foster said she would enter the talks with a "good heart" and with determination to find a solution.

"We want devolution to work because we are a devolutionist party," she said.

"From our part, I was very clear with all the other parties that we will not be found wanting in getting a deal to get Stormont up and running again."

The last DUP/Sinn Féin-led power-sharing coalition impl­oded in January 2017 when the late Martin McGuinness quit as Sinn Féin deputy first minister amid a row about a botched green energy scheme.

The fallout over the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) was soon overtaken by disputes over the Irish language, the North's ban on same-sex marriage and the toxic legacy of the Troubles.

Six previous talks initiatives to restore devolution have failed to find consensus.

Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald said her party was ready to "do the business".

"The current stalemate is not acceptable and not sustainable, there are outstanding issues that need to be resolved, and we believe they can be resolved," she said.

"If everybody is prepared to show leadership, if everybody is prepared to respect the clear public desire for equality and people's rights to be recognised and delivered on, we can find our way back to power-sharing."

After the meeting, Ms Bradley said: "There are some very significant challenges and this is not going to be easy, and therefore I'd ask that we all give the parties time and space to allow them to address these difficult issues."

Irish Independent

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