Northern Ireland news

New talks to restore Stormont will begin next month

Stormont 

New talks aimed at restoring a power-sharing executive at Stormont are to begin after the local elections early next month.

Prime Minister Theresa May and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar have released a joint statement saying the British Irish Governmental conference will also meet in that time.

Progress in the talks will be reviewed at the end of next month.

They said the decision had been made in the wake of the murder of journalist Lyra McKee by dissident republican group the 'New IRA' in Derry last week.

Mrs May and Mr Varadkar, along with the leaders of the north's main political parties, attended Ms McKee's funeral in St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast on Wednesday.

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During a speech at the funeral, west Belfast priest Fr Martin Magill challenged the politicians present and asked why it had taken Ms McKee's death to bring them together.

Fr Magill, who was a friend of the writer, asked: "Why in God's name does it take the death of a 29-year-old woman with her whole life in front of her to get to this point?"

Police this morning released new CCTV footage of the man they believed shot dead Ms McKee:

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British Prime Minister Theresa May before the funeral service for murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast. Picture by Brian Lawless, Press Association

The joint statement from the taoiseach and prime minister said that by attending Ms McKee's funeral political leaders "gave expression to the clear will and determination of all of the people of these islands to reject violence and to support peace and a better future for everyone in Northern Ireland".

"We also heard the unmistakable message to all political leaders that people across Northern Ireland want to see a new momentum for political progress.

"We agree that what is now needed is actions and not just words from all of us who are in positions of leadership.

"We have agreed to establish a new process of political talks, involving all the main political parties in Northern Ireland, together with the UK and Irish Governments, in accordance with the three stranded process.

"The aim of these talks is quickly to re-establish to full operation the democratic institutions of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement - the NI Executive, Assembly and North-South Ministerial Council - so that they can effectively serve all of the people for the future."

Karen Bradley, Theresa May and Leo Varadkar at Lyra McKee's funeral service. Picture by Liam McBurney, Press Association

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Secretary of State Karen Bradley and Tánaiste Simon Coveney are to meet in Belfast today to set out the way forward. 

"In addition, we have agreed that there should be a meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference during the same period," the statement read.

"The Conference will consider East/West relations, security cooperation, and political stability in Northern Ireland.

"We understand the complexity of the underlying concerns of all parties, and the need for renewed trust, mutual respect, generosity and new thinking to resolve the issues.

"As Prime Minister and Taoiseach, we are determined to work together to ensure this process comes to a successful conclusion.

"We will review progress at the end of May.”

DUP leader Arlene Foster has said her party wants Stormont to be restored to tackle pressing issues including health and education. She suggested other issues, including equal marriage and an Irish language act can be addressed as part of a twin-track process.

"Let us get back in and deal with those issues and have a parallel process to deal with those matters which Sinn Féin want to raise," she told the BBC on Thursday.

However, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has said her party will not compromise over a standalone Irish language act. 

"If you're asking me are we going to capitulate on behalf of citizens in the north to people who wish to hold back progress in every form, to people who do not wish to make room for others in an open democratic society, then the answer to that is no," she said.

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