Political news

Stormont talks set for 'very intensive period'

Tanáiste Simon Coveney expects the Stormont talks to intensify next week. Picture by Niall Carson/PA Wire

Secretary of State Karen Bradley has recommended that the Stormont talks process moves into a "very intensive period" at leadership level.

Speaking outside Stormont, she said: "I want to thank the parties for their positive engagement and their determination to make a success of these talks.

"The taoiseach and prime minister were always intending to review progress at the end of the month and we will be reporting to the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach with reports from the leads of the working groups and my assessment of the situation we have today.

"I'll be recommending that we now move into a very intensive period of talks at leadership level to make sure that we can address the issues that remain.

"I am positive that there is the right attitude and there is the right will there, but I think it would be wrong for me to do anything other than to be clear that there are still significant challenges that still remain.

"We will continue to work to deliver what the people of Northern Ireland rightly want and deserve and need, which is government in Stormont."

Tánaiste Simon Coveney said there was "momentum" in the talks process.

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"Certainly my recommendation to the taoiseach will be that we should now intensify the discussions, make them much more direct and much more political for the next couple of weeks in an effort to try to turn what has been a good process into a series of decisions that can get a basis for the re-establishment of an executive - that's ultimately what we are about," he said outside Stormont House.

"I think all the parties are up for that and I think certainly that was the indication today and there was some good blunt discussion, I think, around that because there needs to be an appetite here within the parties to make this work, because it's going to involve compromise and it's going to involve accommodation with each other."

Karen Bradley speaking to the media outside Stormont House as as attempts to restore power-sharing at Stormont continues

Mr Coveney said there were "awkward issues" to resolve.

"But they are not insurmountable," he added.

Read More: Mary Lou McDonald acknowledges voters' frustration over Stormont deadlock

"And when you consider some of the other issues that Northern Ireland faces and some of the decisions that are being taken that will impact directly on Northern Ireland in the autumn I think people need to get into perspective why it's important that we have devolved institutions and Northern Ireland making decisions for itself as we move through the summer into a very unpredictable political period for British and Irish politics.

"This is important and I think the stakes are high."

Mr Coveney acknowledged that events at Westminster and the looming departure of Prime Minister Theresa May could impact on the process.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald (centre) said the talks process needed a 'step change'. Picture by Niall Carson/PA Wire

"They could but I think certainly the response from the parties we are hearing today is they want to use this window that is available," he said.

"We are not likely to have a new Conservative Party leader and new prime minister probably until the end of July. We are looking to get this process done in June.

"So this is a window that parties can either choose to take or not.

"There's always an excuse if people want to find one whether it's marching season, whether it's conference season, whether it's changing politics either in Dublin or London but I think there is window in June and we have managed to bring this process through the European election and in the aftermath of local elections without the parties falling out in the process.

"I think we now have a space of a few weeks to try to see whether parties can accommodate each other, because that's ultimately what this is about. We can't have winners and losers in this process."

Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald said: "We believe there needs to be a step change in our engagement, there needs to be a determination across all of the parties and the two governments to ensure we resolve and deliver on the issues that will allow us to have inclusive good government."

Mrs McDonald said there was a need for a system of government that ensured that "agreements that are made are agreements that are delivered".

"The truth is it's broken promises that have delivered broken politics and we need to fix that and we believe that we can," she said.

The republican leader said the meeting was positive and good humoured, describing a sense of "energy " around the process.

She said the outstanding disputes could be resolved in a relatively short period of time if there was the willingness, highlighting that much of the detail around the issues has already been hammered out.

"We have talked the hind legs off several donkeys on all of these issues, so it's not as though we are breaking new ground here - this is now a question of political will and political leadership," she said.

UUP leader Robin Swann said the "mood music" around the table was a lot better than he expected.

"There were no red lines throw out around the table. It was about how we get to the next step and what the next step actually looks like," he said.

SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon said the "difficult issues" still remained unresolved.

"It is very clear, anyone who went round the doors over the last two elections will know, that the people of Northern Ireland right across the north want their politicians back to work," she said.

"We are committing to doing that, that is our priority and it will remain our priority as we enter this next phase of negotiations."

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long said the working groups had made some progress "stress testing" proposals.

"But I think all of us recognise that at this stage we need to move on to a different stage in this process where it's actual direct negotiations with the party leaderships," she said.

"We are hoping that will be the case next week."

Mrs Long added: "I think people's expectations have been raised by the recent round of talks and now it's up to all of the parties to deliver."

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