Northern Ireland news

Round-table Stormont talks set to begin on Monday

Karen Bradley said the delicate nature of the negotiations could prevent her from revealing any details next week. Picture by Hugh Russell

THE British and Irish governments hope to hold round-table talks involving Stormont's five main parties when the latest round of negotiations resume again on Monday.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood last night called for an end to what he termed the "secret phase of talks" and repeated a demand that the DUP and Sinn Féin state what progress has been made since efforts to restore devolution commenced last March.

The two governments hope the round-table discussions will bring a new dynamic to a thus far low-key process.

One source told The Irish News that Monday would "provide a clearer picture of where exactly we're at".

The planned plenary will convene 48 hours before Secretary of State Karen Bradley had been scheduled to update MPs on any progress.

Mrs Bradley last month refused to earmark a date for the talks' conclusion and described Wednesday February 7 as a "milestone" rather than a deadline.

Earlier this week, however, she resisted calls to commit to make a formal statement at Westminster on Wednesday.

The secretary of state apologised to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, claiming there appeared to be a “misunderstanding” that she was going to make a definitive statement on the negotiations.

Mrs Bradley said she would be responding to MPs' questions but cautioned that the delicate nature of the negotiations could prevent her from revealing any details.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney, who was at the talks in Belfast yesterday, will return on Monday as the planned round-table discussions begin.

But ahead of an expected intensification of negotiations, the SDLP leader warned that his party "won't prop up a charade".

Mr Eastwood said the public deserved to know where the DUP and Sinn Féin had compromised, claiming to date the talks had not been inclusive.

"They deserve to know why they have been left without a government, without power and without any delivery of change," he said.

"The public also need to know that while they were told that there was to be a new process of inclusive talks, there has been no inclusive talks process."

Earlier this week, Mrs Bradley held separate meetings with campaigners for same-sex marriage and an Irish language act. She also met the chief executive of the Ulster Scots Agency.

The deadlock in the negotiations between the DUP and Sinn Féin is understood to centre on calls for standalone Irish language act and equal marriage, as well as legacy issues.

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