Northern Ireland news

Governments plan fresh talks to restore Stormont power-sharing

Michelle O’Neill said her party was ready to restore the power-sharing institutions through a resolution of 'issues of rights and equality'. Picture by Hugh Russell

THE British and Irish governments are today expected to announce they will hold fresh talks with all major parties to restore power-sharing at Stormont.

Secretary of State Karen Bradley and Tánaiste Simon Coveney are due to hold a joint press conference in Belfast on Friday when an announcement will be made.

New talks would take place after local government elections on May 2 but before the European poll later in the month.

Speaking in Derry today, Ms Bradley told the BBC: "I think we need to make sure that politicians come together and do the right thing - do the right thing for the people of Northern Ireland and get back into government."

And Mr Coveney told RTÉ: "I think both governments know they have a responsibility to work together to give both leadership and structure to help parties find a way of re-establishing a functioning Stormont and we will have more to say on this this afternoon."

Hopes of progress were raised on Wednesday when west Belfast parish priest Fr Martin Magill challenged Stormont's big two parties to reach agreement.

The Catholic cleric was speaking at the funeral of Lyra McKee, who was shot dead by dissident republicans in Derry last week.

Sinn Féin rejected a proposal by Arlene Foster, originally tabled in 2017, for a twin-track approach where the assembly is restored while negotiations on issues such as same-sex marriage and an Irish language act take place separately.

Read More: Arlene Foster 'wasn't embarrassed into standing' after priest's Lyra McKee funeral address

The DUP leader said republicans could not get everything they wanted while her party conceded ground – describing such as scenario as a "5-0 victory".

"I think it is an eminently reasonable thing to suggest, dealing with the normal day-to-day things in the assembly whilst dealing in a separate process with the help of our government to dealing with the issues which Sinn Féin want to raise," she told the BBC.

The former first minister claimed Sinn Féin was "putting their demands above the demands of the people of Northern Ireland".

"The people of Northern Ireland have demands as well and they are demands for a better healthcare system, they want their schools reformed, they want their infrastructure done," she said.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O’Neill said her party was ready to restore the power-sharing institutions through a resolution of "issues of rights and equality".

Asked by The Irish News at a press conference yesterday whether her party would contemplate joining an executive without assurances on abortion rights, same-sex marriage and an Irish language act, the Mid Ulster MLA was non-committal, claiming the "media was obsessed with red lines".

Sinn Féin faced criticism from LGBT+ activists after the eleventh hour collapse of negotiations last year because it appeared the party was willing to do a deal with the DUP that did not include provisions for marriage equality.

"The DUP had 10 years in an executive to demonstrate whether they were prepared to treat all citizens equally – they failed to do so," Ms O'Neill said in statement last night.

"But if they are now saying that they are prepared to deal definitively with the rights issues – including marriage equality, women’s rights, Irish speakers and victims - then we are in a very different scenario."

She called for the urgent convening of the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference – "so that both governments working together begin addressing the need to end the discrimination and denial of rights".

Meanwhile, Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said there should be no excuses for not engaging in meaningful talks.

"The record hadn't changed – this is an abdication of political responsibility," he said.

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