Political news

Ophelia forces Bill Clinton to postpone intervention in political stalemate

Deborah McAleese, Press Association

Storm Ophelia has forced former US president Bill Clinton to postpone a planned intervention in Northern Ireland's political stalemate.

The Press Association understands Mr Clinton had been due to visit the north on Monday to meet the political parties as they continue to struggle to reach a deal to restore the collapsed Executive.

But the visit was called off at late notice due to the severe weather warnings. It is understood the visit may still take place on Tuesday.

According to Stormont sources, Mr Clinton planned to take the meetings ahead of an official event in Dublin on Tuesday, when he will receive an honorary doctorate from Dublin City University.

The face-to-face talks were aimed at encouraging former government partners Sinn Féin and the DUP to work through their differences and restart powersharing.

With no end in sight to the political stalemate the region could be moving back to direct rule.

Since his first visit to Northern Ireland in 1995 Bill Clinton has been the most high-profile international champion of the peace process.

Three visits while he was US president and several since he left office have underlined his commitment to being an enabler of compromise.

However, he has also taken on the role of exerting pressure on both sides when political progress seemed to have stalled.

During his most recent visit earlier this year for the funeral of Martin McGuinness, he urged party leaders to complete the work of the former IRA commander turned politician, and to restore powersharing.

The Stormont government collapsed in January after the resignation of the late Martin McGuinness as deputy first minister, in a row over the DUP's handling of a botched renewable heat energy scheme.

Months of talks aimed at restoring powersharing have so far failed, with Sinn Féin and the DUP unable to reach agreement on a number of key areas, including an Irish Language Act and legacy issues.

On Saturday the DUP ruled out any immediate return of the powersharing Executive at Stormont.

In a blow to the UK and Irish governments' hopes that a deal to bring back Stormont is close, the party said "significant areas of difference" remained with Sinn Féin.

In a statement, the party said: "Any notion that an agreement is imminent and that the Assembly will meet next week has no basis in fact given the present state of the talks."

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said he agreed with the DUP that there were unresolved issues.

Dublin Foreign Affairs minister Simon Coveney recently said the talks were at a "sensitive" point and added that he was hopeful of a successful outcome soon.

At the weekend the leader of Fianna Fail, Micheal Martin called on the DUP and Sinn Féin to establish an executive that will deal with Brexit

It followed comments from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who said EU leaders need to know soon who they can talk to in Northern Ireland about Brexit.

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