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Chance of fresh power-sharing talks 'very slim'

Fresh talks aimed at restoring power-sharing appear increasingly unlikely. Picture by Niall Carson, Press Association

THE prospect of fresh talks aimed at restoring power-sharing appeared remote last night after the secretary of state was accused of failing to produce any new proposals for breaking the political logjam.

Sinn Féin, who were among four of the five main parties to met Karen Bradley in Belfast, said the British government "lacked ambition" in order to restore the institutions.

Ms Bradley met representatives from Sinn Féin, the SDLP, Ulster Unionists and Alliance parties at Stormont.

A DUP spokesman said the party is to meet Mrs Bradley in London on Wednesday.

Party leader Arlene Foster was in Gibraltar yesterday to give a speech to mark the territory's national day.

It is understood the Northern Ireland Office only became aware yesterday morning that that the DUP would not be taking part.

 Michelle O'Neill with Sinn Féin MLAs Conor Murphy and Caoimhe Archibald at Stormont. Picture by Michael McHugh, Press Association

Stormont has not sat for 20 months amid serious differences over legacy issues and the Irish language.

Mrs Bradley had been expected to give more clarity on the way forward following the failure of political talks in February.

Senior civil servants have complained that they need clear guidance on what decisions they can take in the absence of an Executive.

However, all four parties said that yesterday's discussions included little new information.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O'Neill said Mrs Bradley failed to produce any fresh proposals.

"We have nothing new to say in terms of any proposal to restore an executive and have a fully-functioning government here taking decisions that impact on people's lives," she said.

"What Karen Bradley has done today is more of the same (of) what she has done over the course of the last 18/19 months. She's pandered, she's talked up the fact they (the British government) have a priority to restore the executive, however she has failed to bring forward any proposals in order to be able to do so."

Ms O'Neill also called again on the British government to release funding to allow the Lord Chief Justice to progress inquests into Troubles-era killings.

Secretary of State Karen Bradley has met four of the five main parties at Stormont. Picture from Press Association

SDLP MLA Nichola Mallon said the government must introduce legislation on language rights and equal marriage to clear the impasse at Stormont.

"Remove the obstacles, remove the excuses, and let's get local government back up and running," she said.

She later tweeted the "only positive" from the meeting was that Mrs Bradley agreed to consider a "recovery investment package" to support businesses affected by the Primark fire.

Alliance MLA Stephen Farry said his party was concerned that a lack of government has left "public services struggling and the economy stagnating".

He insisted the British and Irish governments must appoint a talks mediator to kick-start political progress.

"We have been disappointed by the lack of energy that there has been in the talks, or lack of talks, since February and it is now incumbent on the governments to re-energise the process over the course of the autumn."

 Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann at Stormont. Picture by Michael McHugh, Press Association

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said he was "underwhelmed" by the discussions and claimed Mrs Bradley had offered "no bite, no detail and no direction".

"It is clear from our discussions today that without any clear deadline or framework, the prospect of talks getting underway now or in the near future are very slim and Northern Ireland cannot just be left to wither on the vine," he said.

Mrs Bradley said the right way forward was stable, fully functioning, inclusive devolved government.

She said: "Last week, I set out the Government's clear plan to bring that about and today was the first step in that process.

"I will continue engagement over the next days and weeks ahead of legislation to support the ongoing delivery of public services in Northern Ireland.

"Devolved government is in the best interests of Northern Ireland and this is what I am determined to deliver."

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