Thursday 22 August 2019

There's momentum for talks to restore Stormont power-sharing, insists May

Challenges: British Prime Minister Theresa May. Picture: PA
Challenges: British Prime Minister Theresa May. Picture: PA

Andrew Woodcock and David Young

British Prime Minister Theresa May has told her cabinet there is a momentum around the new talks process to restore power-sharing in Northern Ireland.

But addressing the weekly Downing Street meeting, Mrs May cautioned that challenges needed to be overcome before Stormont returned to activity.

Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley also told the British cabinet the murder of journalist Lyra McKee in Derry had led to a "renewed rejection of violence by the people" of the region.

"The people of Northern Ireland have also expressed their frustration at the current impasse and their desire to see devolved government restored quickly," said a spokesperson for Mrs May.

"The prime minister said that while momentum exists around the need to commence a talks process, we should not underestimate the challenges facing the Northern Ireland parties.

"Intensive preparations are now taking place between the UK and Irish governments and with Northern Irish parties on the structure and substance of the talks."

The new talks initiative, announced by the two governments last week, will start on May 7.

The ongoing political stalemate has left Northern Ireland without a devolved government for over two years.

Efforts to resurrect the power-sharing institutions have been injected with fresh impetus following the death of Ms McKee (29) on April 18.

The last DUP-Sinn Féin power-sharing coalition imploded in January 2017 amid a row about a botched renewable energy scheme.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has called for a plan B to be put in place if talks to restore a Northern Ireland government at Stormont fail. Ms McDonald said her party would go into talks with the DUP in "good faith", but the British and Irish governments must have a back-up plan to ensure any deadlock can be cleared. She denied Sinn Féin and the DUP had been "bounced" into new talks after the murder of Ms McKee.

Sources said that if the DUP refused to budge on marriage equality and an Irish Language Act, it was hoped Westminster would step in and legislate for both, breaking the deadlock.

DUP leader Arlene Foster has made it clear her party's position on marriage equality has not changed and believes marriage should be between a man and a woman.

Separately in the UK, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has managed to fend off an attempt to commit the party to a confirmatory referendum on any Brexit deal.

The proposal was defeated in a marathon meeting of the party's ruling National Executive Committee to finalise the Labour platform for next month's European elections.

The party's manifesto will instead stick to the wording of a motion passed by Labour conference last year, which keeps a public vote on the table as a last option.

Irish Independent

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