Political news

Stormont working groups hold first meetings

The five working groups established to work in parallel to the latest negotiations have met for the first time. Picture by Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press

THE five working groups tasked with plotting a course to the restoration of the devolved institutions met yesterday for the first time.

The groups, which include three representatives from each of Stormont's main parties, are expected to continue their exploratory work for the rest of the week ahead of a leaders' meeting at the beginning of next week.

The two governments convened the first round of negotiations for more 14 months on Monday.

The last talks process broke up in February last year after the DUP refused to sign up to a draft deal that included provisions designed to safeguard and promote the Irish language.

The fresh talks appear more structured than in the past, although no firm timetable has been laid down.

Five working groups have been established to work in parallel to the negotiations and address the the main stumbling blocks to agreement, alongside measures that will make any restored executive more sustainable.

The groups of party representatives will be advised by officials from both governments and their work will focus on issues ranging from reform of the petition of concern to rights, language and identity issues.

According to one Stormont source, the make-up of the various groups is "fluid" at present because the parties are focussing their resources on campaigning for the European election on May 23.

"At the moment people are setting out their stalls and we don't really expect things to get going for a couple of weeks," the source said.

The working groups are expected to inform the round-table talks involving senior party representatives which will take place at least once a week.

According to the two governments, these meetings will enable the leaders of each party to "take stock of progress and set the agenda for talks".

The two governments said on Monday that the negotiations would be "short... with the aim of achieving rapid progress".

Progress will be reviewed by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British Prime Minister Theresa May at the end of this month.

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