Northern Ireland news

Michelle O'Neill: Sinn Féin 'ready to restart formal talks'

DUP Leader Arlene Foster speaking to the media at Stormont on Monday. Picture by Colm Lenaghan, Pacemaker
Claire Simpson and Press Association reporters

SINN Féin is ready to restart formal talks aimed at restoring power-sharing, the party's northern leader has said.

Michelle O'Neill said her party and the DUP had been engaged in "intensified dialogue" for more than a week and Sinn Féin was now ready to recommence formal negotiations with all the parties and the British and Irish governments.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said the "intensive" talks had been deliberately kept away from the "spotlight".

She told RTÉ "more structured talks" were expected to take place next week.

The north has had no executive for seven months after the late Sinn Féin deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness resigned over the DUP's handling of the disastrous Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme.

Talks aimed at restoring power-sharing collapsed in June and have not yet resumed following the summer break.

If the parties do not come to an agreement by next month, direct rule is expected to be reimposed.

Secretary of State James Brokenshire has previously warned he may have to legislate for a Stormont budget if the deadlock continues.

The DUP and Sinn Féin remain at odds over key issues including an Irish language act.

Mr Brokenshire said yesterday discussions between the two largest parties showed they were willing to try and find an agreement.

"I welcome the fact that the the DUP and Sinn Féin have been engaging in intensive dialogue privately during the past week," he said.

He added: "I was encouraged during my meetings with parties this week that there is agreement on the need for an Executive to be formed as soon as possible.

"They must continue to work together to find a resolution to their differences and secure the re-establishment of devolved government in the interests of everyone in Northern Ireland."

Ms O'Neill said her party and the DUP had been in engaged in "intensified dialogue" for more than a week.

She later added: "Sinn Féin believes that formal talks should be reconvened and that agreement is possible".

"The route map to establishing the executive is clear, it's reasonable and it's achievable. Implement previous agreements, deliver equality for all and embrace genuine partnership government," she said.

"However, this will require that both governments honour their obligations as co-equal guarantors of the agreements and for the British government to demonstrate, 'rigorous impartiality' that overrides any short-term deal at Westminster."

Mrs Foster said there has been detailed contact with Sinn Féin to see if a deal is possible.

"We intend to continue with a further series of bilaterals with all of the other parties to determine whether agreement can be reached in the short time available," she said.

The Republic's foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney said there was cause for optimism.

"But there will be political leadership needed to actually look towards compromise, as opposed to holding on to hardline positions on key issues where there is a difference of opinion," he said.

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