Northern Ireland news

Brief leaders' meeting marks start of intense Stormont talks process

PACEMAKER BELFAST 3/06/2019.Sinn Féin Leas Uachtarán Michelle O'Neill MLA speaks to the media with Conor Murphy in the Great Hall, Stormont, ahead of today's round-table talks. .Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press.

STORMONT'S main parties appear ready to focus on striking a deal to restore devolution even though yesterday's leaders' meeting with the two governments lasted a mere 25 minutes.

It was unclear why the first meeting of the ramped up process concluded so quickly but Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O'Neill said the roundtable failed to reflect the intensification of the process recently signalled by the two governments.

A statement on Sunday from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British Prime Minister Theresa May spoke of a "genuine but narrow window of opportunity" to reach agreement.

The premiers' joint remarks followed last week's assessment of progress in the talks so far by Tanáiste Simon Coveney and Secretary of State Karen Bradley.

A number of working groups examining various issues relating to any restored institutions have been meeting in recent weeks but the governments are hoping there will now be greater engagement between the parties at leadership level.

Speaking after yesterday's meeting, Ms O'Neill said it was time to move beyond the "constructive engagement" that the two governments had spoken of to "delivering to bring about an assembly and executive again".

"Success would look like an executive and assembly that delivers for all citizens and implementation of previous agreements – that is what we are determined to achieve in this new phase," she said.

"We have an opportunity here and we should take it."

The Mid Ulster MLA said Sinn Féin's preferred outcome from the negotiations was "absolutely reasonable".

DUP leader Arlene Foster said her party was "constructively engaging" in the talks.

"I very much hope that we can continue in the constructive way that we have been engaging and we can find a way forward," she said.

"We are up for finding a way forward as quickly as possible. It has to be a balanced way forward and one that everyone in society can sign up to."

Colum Eastwood said the SDLP was up for "radical change" but that a deal needed to be finalised before the end of the month.

"We know from bitter experience what the summer can bring in Northern Ireland, we know the political difficulties that we are going to face in September and October, now is the time to do it, we have no more excuses," he said.

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said it would be a "missed opportunity" if the process did not get into the "nitty-gritty".

"We have a short window here to actually solve the problems which are preventing this place from being restored," he said.

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