Northern Ireland news

Karen Bradley: A deal to save powersharing at Stormont is achievable within coming days

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

A deal to save powersharing at Stormont is achievable within the coming days, the Northern Ireland Secretary has said.

Karen Bradley said an agreement was by no means certain, but she expressed hope resolution between Sinn Fein and Democratic Unionists could be secured in the near future.

However, Mrs Bradley declined to outline specific details on the ongoing political negotiations in Belfast as she updated the House of Commons, insisting she did not want to jeopardise a successful outcome.

"An accommodation between the parties has not yet been reached, but there is no doubt as to the parties' collective commitment towards the restoration of devolution," said told MPs.

"I firmly believe that an agreement in the coming days, while not certain, is achievable and this remains my focus."

Northern Ireland has been without a functioning administration for over a year after the last DUP/Sinn Fein-led coalition imploded in a row over a botched green energy scheme.

That rift subsequently widened to take in long-running disputes over culture, social issues and legacy.

The current talks process has been characterised as a final opportunity to save the devolved institutions before the UK Government moves to introduce a form of Westminster direct rule.

The process involved all five main Stormont parties and the UK and Irish governments. Another round table engagement is scheduled for Thursday.

Civil servants have been running Stormont's public services during the impasse, however they are hamstrung by their inability to take major policy decisions.

With the pressing need for budget to be struck for the next financial year, if the latest talks bid fails, the UK government will face mounting pressure to introduce a form of Westminster direct rule to provide financial certainty.

During Northern Ireland questions in the Commons, the DUP's Nigel Dodds pressed Mrs Bradley to make a firm commitment that she would intervene to set a budget.

The Secretary of State declined to offer such a direct pledge, but she highlighted that her predecessor, James Brokenshire, had done something similar for the current year's budget.

Earlier, Ireland's deputy premier Simon Coveney also struck an optimistic note as he addressed a business conference in Co Louth.

"There remain challenges for the parties, but I remain convinced that an agreement can and will be reached," the tanaiste said.

"I am convinced each of the parties want to see the devolved institutions in operation, but of course they must come to an accommodation for each other and that can't be forced on them.

"A new executive though is critical - for decision making in Northern Ireland, for the peace process and for ensuring that Northern Ireland's interests as a whole can be directly and effectively represented through the Brexit negotiations."

SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood said he remained frustrated. 

"Today in Westminster there were no answers, no detail and no leadership. Instead, the Secretary of State once more gave cover to the secret talks of the DUP and Sinn Féin," he said. After the anti-climax of today’s ‘milestone’, people across the North will rightly be asking the question as to just how long this farce can go on?"  

 Few surprises are expected from Karen Bradley’s “milestone” event. Ian Knox cartoon.

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