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Theresa May urges DUP and Sinn Féin to restore Stormont institutions

Theresa May made separate phone calls to Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill. Picture by Lauren Hurley/PA Wire

THERESA May has urged Stormont's two biggest parties to restore the devolved institutions as soon as possible.

The British prime minister had separate telephone conversations with DUP leader Arlene Foster and her Sinn Féin northern counterpart Michelle O'Neill.

The calls from Downing Street come after talks between the two parties appeared to have intensified in recent weeks.

There remains an expectation that more formal negotiations will be convened before the end of the month but so far the parties appear content to conduct discussions bilaterally rather than them being overseen by the two governments.

In a statement from Downing Street yesterday, a spokesman said: "In separate phone calls the prime minister made clear the importance of restoring a power-sharing executive to Northern Ireland as soon as possible and she recognised their continued leadership towards reaching agreement.

"They discussed key outstanding issues that remain for both parties and the prime minister encouraged both leaders to come to an agreement soon in the interests of everyone in Northern Ireland."

The two leaders were assured that Secretary of State James Brokenshire would continue to work closely with the parties "towards a successful outcome".

Ms O'Neill has reiterated her party's commitment to reviving power-sharing but said restoration of the institutions was conditional on "the basis of the Good Friday Agreement".

"That means addressing the outstanding issues of rights and respect such as language rights, marriage rights, the right to a coroner's inquest and the implementation of previous agreements," she said.

"As a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, there is clearly a responsibility on the British government to help ensure this happens."

Speaking in Westminster, Mr Brokenshire warned that time to secure agreement was "short".

He said the British government had a "clear and resolute focus" on re-establishing devolved government at Stormont.

"Together with the Irish government we are continuing to support the parties' efforts to find resolution and form an executive. However, time is short and I urge the parties to continue to work to reach an agreement," he said.

He said he was "encouraged" by recent intensive engagement between the DUP and Sinn Féin.

DUP Westminster leader Nigel Dodds said: "The prime minister has been in touch with the party leaders in Northern Ireland in recent hours and she will have heard from our party leader a total commitment to restoring devolution immediately, with no red lines or preconditions to get on with the job of dealing with health, education, jobs and investment in Northern Ireland."

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