Northern Ireland

Brokenshire: Government considering new tactics ahead of powersharing talks

James Brokenshire has begun his three-day visit to the United States. Picture by Hugh Russell
James Brokenshire has begun his three-day visit to the United States. Picture by Hugh Russell James Brokenshire has begun his three-day visit to the United States. Picture by Hugh Russell

The UK Government is considering a number of options to potentially inject fresh impetus into stalled talks to restore powersharing at Stormont.

Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire said he was carefully examining how best to approach negotiations when they are scheduled to resume at the end of the summer.

After months of impasse and a series of missed deadlines to re-establish a devolved executive, Mr Brokenshire has faced calls to change the dynamic of the process.

The appointment of an independent overseas mediator or even shifting the talks venue out of Northern Ireland have been among the options suggested.

On a visit to the US, Mr Brokenshire said the Government was considering how to approach the next phase of the talks.

Asked whether an outside talks chair or a new venue were potential options, the Secretary of State told the Press Association: "We are thinking carefully about how we can best support and create the right climate and context to get that positive outcome that I think people in Northern Ireland want to see, which is that executive getting back into position, having locally elected politicians doing the job they have been voted to do.

"We need to think carefully because we have made progress and it is important to underline that issues have been narrowed.

"There are always risks around doing something different - as to whether that unpicks or undermines the progress that has already been achieved - but we are thinking carefully and thoughtfully as to what the next steps might need to be, how best to encourage that spirit of compromise and resolution.

"We are quietly doing that now."

During his trip to Washington, Mr Brokenshire is meeting with representatives of the US administration, potential investors and US politicians with an interest in the peace process.

He said he was taking soundings from those meetings on how best to proceed at Stormont and was also involved in discussions with the Irish government.

The Conservative MP said he was also encouraging US politicians to use their influence and connections with the local parties in Northern Ireland to push for a resolution to the stalemate.

"People here feel strongly and passionately about wanting to see that executive back in place and are saying that they will support and do all they can to encourage and promote that spirit of compromise and getting people to see the bigger picture on how far Northern Ireland has come," he said.

If the Stormont crisis continues, Mr Brokenshire will face pressure to intervene and legislate for a Stormont budget at Westminster in the autumn.

A bitter political rift between Stormont's two largest parties, the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein, has left the region without a first and deputy first minister since January and a functioning executive since March.

The parties remain at loggerheads over a range of issues.

Sticking points include the shape of legislation to protect Irish language speakers, the DUP's opposition to lifting the region's ban on same-sex marriage, and mechanisms to deal with the legacy of the Troubles.