Northern Ireland news

Sinn Féin and the DUP look set for a return to Stormont

Nigel Dodds lost his North Belfast seat to John Finucane

Sinn Féin and the DUP are expected to approach the forthcoming Stormont negotiations with renewed determination having both suffered setbacks in Thursday's Westminster election.

With the so-called Alliance surge continuing and the SDLP reinvigorated, Stormomt's two big parties will be keen avoid a fresh assembly election triggered by the failure to reach agreement on restoring the institutions.

A new round of negotiations are tentatively scheduled to begin next week and the British government has already warned that the deadlock cannot continue indefinitely.

The DUP suffered a disastrous election, losing two MPs and seeing its vote share down by 5.4 per cent.

Sinn Féin gained North Belfast but lost Foyle and saw its vote share down by 6.7 per cent.

Meanwhile, Alliance took its second ever Westminster seat in North Down, attracting an extra 8.8 per cent vote that firmly establishes the party as a 'third force' in Northern Ireland politics.

If these percentages were transferred to an assembly election it would represent losses for the main parties.

The result is also seen as providing momentum towards a border poll with Northern Ireland returning a nationalist majority to Westminster for the first time.

Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald said: "Sinn Féin wants to see a successful conclusion of the talks established by the two governments and the political institutions restored on a credible and a sustainable basis.

"I and our negotiating team stand ready to re-enter talks with the two governments and the other parties on Monday and we will work towards securing agreement on outstanding issues.”

DUP leader Arlene Foster said she was also ready for talks on returning to Stormont.

“We're listening. I know you want to get NI moving again and have an Assembly to fix our schools and hospitals. I will be at the talks on Monday.”

Commentator Chris Donnelly said there was now a fresh incentive to return to Stormont.

“We saw from the tone from Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill were adopting during the various debates and interviews ahead of the election that there was a yearning for devolution to be restored.

“Clearly the outcome of this election and the feedback on the doors that the DUP and Sinn Féin were hearing about the state of public services and the deadlock at Stormont means both parties will be approaching the forthcoming talks with a renewed resolve to reach an accommodation and restore the institutions.”

But Mr Donnelly cautioned that it wouldn't happen without an Irish language act.

Irish News columnist Brian Feeney suggested an Assembly election was more likely.

“An assembly election ... is likely if the talks scheduled for next week fail to make progress by mid-January, and there is no reason to presume they will,” he says.

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