Northern Ireland news

Stormont parties gather for 'positive' informal talks

Naomi Long described yesterday's round-table talks as 'positive'. Picture by Hugh Russell

REPRESENTATIVES of Stormont's five main parties yesterday took part in round-table talks for the first time in more than six months.

The informal meeting at Parliament Buildings was organised and chaired by Alliance leader Naomi Long.

The parties each sent one representative to the exploratory talks, which lasted around 90 minutes.

The Greens' Steven Agnew, People Before Profit's Gerry Carroll and independent unionist Claire Sudgen also attended.

There is an expectation that the two governments will seek to convene formal negotiations at some time in the autumn.

There has been no serious engagement between the DUP and Sinn Féin since talks collapsed in February as a deal looked close to being agreed.

Mrs Long told The Irish News that yesterday's meeting was "positive" and she planned to hold separate meetings later this week with DUP leader Arlene Foster and Sinn Féin deputy Michelle O'Neill.

"It was a good start and while the exchanges were frank and robust, they were constructive," she said.

"After six months of megaphone diplomacy, we are trying to re-establish the trust that has been missing and find the basis for bringing people together."

Sinn Féin representative Alex Maskey said the British and Irish governments had a responsibility to remove the obstacles to power-sharing.

He said Sinn Féin was a "party of dialogue" which would participate in any process that was "credible and can achieve a successful outcome".

“Institutions of government need to enjoy public confidence and it is intolerable and unacceptable that we are still without an assembly and executive due to the DUP's decision to renege on the draft agreement in February and collapse the political negotiations," the West Belfast MLA said.

"The issues of rights and equality still need resolved and any new process must focus on that if it is to be successful – it must also be fully inclusive of all parties and both governments."

As the talks were concluding, the DUP - which was represented by Simon Hamilton - released a statement in deputy leader Nigel Dodds's name.

He said people were "tired of uncertainty" and it was clear decisions would now be made at Westminster.

"With parliament returning this week, the government will be required to live up to their commitments to ensure the good governance of Northern Ireland," the North Belfast MP said.

"It was not the DUP who collapsed the executive and it is not the DUP who are blocking the restoration of the executive."

SDLP MLA Colin McGrath said his party is prepared to engage in any talks process which was "open and inclusive".

"Our MLAs want to get back into the chamber and back to doing our legislative role," he said.

"It is critical that the British and Irish governments, as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement, move quickly to establish a credible talks process that all parties can engage in."

Ulster Unionist chief whip Steve Aiken said the get together was "very informal" and all the parties agreed to hold further talks.

A statement from TUV said the party had not been represented because the talks focused on resurrecting "failed institutions".

“The fundamental issue with the Stormont structures is that they cannot operate without Sinn Féin/IRA, a party which has no interest in Northern Ireland existing much less succeeding and prospering," it said.

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