'No impetus' in efforts to restore Stormont powersharing, Alliance party warns
Talks to restore powersharing in Northern Ireland are bereft of impetus and momentum, the Alliance Party has warned.
The process resumed on Monday after a pause for the General Election, but negotiations have again been put on ice on Tuesday as the political focus shifted to Westminster and the anticipated parliamentary deal between the DUP and Conservatives.
Exchanges at Stormont Castle on Tuesday are expected to be limited discussions between party officials.
Secretary of State James Brokenshire and DUP leader Arlene Foster are both in London for talks on the confidence and supply deal that would enable Theresa May's minority government to function.
The Stormont parties have until a June 29 deadline to reach consensus and re-establish a ruling executive.
Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said the first roundtable talks in the process were not expected until Thursday at the earliest.
"This has been branded an intensive three-week process," he said.
"However, no roundtable between the parties until Thursday at least means the first week will have effectively passed by without meaningful discussions between the parties at the same table.
"Alliance has met with the two governments and also asked each of the main parties to meet as well.
"While separate bilateral meetings are useful, it's not until you get an all-party meeting around the same table that you get a true sense of everyone's intentions.
"I understand there is a new UK government and changes in the government in the Republic but there remains no impetus to this process, which doesn't inspire confidence.
"We need people to step up to the plate and do so without delay.
"The consequences of not doing so are too severe."
Northern Ireland has been without a powersharing executive since March and without a first and deputy first minister since January.
Developments at Westminster have placed another question mark over the already faltering process.
Sinn Fein, the SDLP and Alliance insist Secretary of State James Brokenshire can no longer chair the efforts to restore powersharing.
They are adamant the British government can no longer cast itself as a neutral facilitator in the process, given the prime minister's likely deal with the DUP.
The dispute has prompted renewed calls for a chairman from outside the UK and Ireland to be appointed.
Mr Brokenshire has rejected the criticism, claiming Westminster affairs were "entirely separate" from the British government's responsibility to act with impartiality at Stormont.
A number of deadlines to reach an agreement have already fallen by the wayside since March's snap Assembly poll, which was triggered by the implosion of the last DUP/Sinn Féin-led administration over a dispute about a botched green energy scheme.
The Assembly election campaign exposed many divisions between the two main parties on issues such as legislative protections for Irish language speakers and how to deal with the legacy of the Troubles.