US pushes Northern leaders to restore Stormont Assembly
White House statement speaks of shock and sadness at the murder of journalist Lyra McKee
Renewed efforts to restore power sharing in Northern Ireland were supported by the White House yesterday, with political leaders encouraged to engage further following the death of journalist Lyra McKee.
It followed an emotional plea from Tanaiste Simon Coveney to ensure there is no more bloodshed in the North after more than 800 days without a functioning government in Northern Ireland.
The Irish and UK governments have set a target of the end of May for progress on restorative discussions.
In the US, the White House said it was supportive of efforts to restore the Northern executive. In a statement, it said Ms McKee's death was saddening and called on political leaders to engage fully.
"The United States welcomes the initiative of the British and Irish governments to convene political talks in Northern Ireland," said a White House spokesman.
"We encourage Northern Ireland's political leaders to return to the negotiating table to restore the region's local government. We were shocked and saddened over the death of journalist Lyra McKee last week and reiterate our firm support for the Northern Ireland peace process."
Coveney and the UK secretary to Northern Ireland Karen Bradley said the talks will begin again on May 7, giving the North's political leaders three weeks to make substantive progress.
Sinn Fein and the DUP have indicated they are both willing to participate in power-sharing discussions but they remain some distance apart in terms of finding a middle ground on key issues.
DUP leader Arlene Foster has insisted her party "will not be found wanting in any talks process" but has insisted the Assembly should be restored while talks are ongoing.
"We need a sustainable Assembly and that is best delivered through working together with the other parties where we respect each other's policies and mandates," she said.
However, the two parties have clashed on a number of key issues, such as marriage equality and the Irish language act.
"Talks should respect the three-stranded approach and be focused on delivering a fair and balanced deal that both unionists and nationalists can support. Anyone who thinks agreement can be reached through a one-sided wish list being implemented is not rooted in reality", she added.
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said she was hopeful ahead of the talks commencing but has warned it would soon become apparent if there was a real will for issues to be addressed.
Further encouragement fro the US came from the co-chairs of the ''Friends of Ireland'' caucus.
Its co-chairs, congressmen Richard Neal and Peter King, called on elected representatives in the North to govern.
"We are prepared to help in a positive and constructive way to make this latest initiative a success," they said.
Yesterday, Mr Coveney said politicians owed it to Lyra McKee's heartbroken mother Joan "to make sure no other ceasefire babies are murdered".
Writing in yesterday's Irish Independent, he reflected on the political leaders who attended Ms McKee's funeral mass last week and the fact they were powerless to comfort her mother.
"There is never a perfect time to do the right thing in Northern Ireland. However, there is a right time and that time is now," Mr Coveney said.