Northern Ireland news

Last push for agreement expected ahead of decision on direct rule

There has been little contact between the DUP and Sinn Féin since negotiations collapsed in February. Picture by Owen Humphreys/PA Wire

The British government is expected to make a concerted effort to begin talks between Stormont's parties in the coming weeks.

Senior Northern Ireland Office (NIO) sources have indicated that ahead of the imposition of direct rule or any cut in MLAs' salaries, there will be a final push to restart negotiations.

The fresh bid to find common ground between the DUP and Sinn Féin comes as relations between Stormont's two largest parties remain at their lowest point for a decade.

It is understood there has been minimal contact between the two former power-sharing partners since the acrimonious collapse of negotiations in February.

The DUP has said it will restore the executive immediately and seek to resolve the issues that have dogged efforts to restore devolution for the past 18 months. However, Sinn Féin has rejected the so-called parallel process, insisting that the DUP make "rights-based" concessions ahead of the executive's restoration.

While British government officials seek to find ways of bringing a new dynamic to the stalled process, the NIO is simply restating that it is its priority to secure a "basis for political talks".

Meanwhile, Alliance leader Naomi Long has invited the four other main parties to come together next week.

The East Belfast MLA sent out letters to fellow party leaders last week, saying there was a "growing frustration" at the continued political logjam.

"While there are still key issues which divide the parties, I hope the desire to better serve those who elected us represents a point of agreement on which we can start to build," Mrs Long said.

The Department of Foreign Affairs declined to comment on any fresh efforts to restart the talks process.

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