Political news

Tanaiste and secretary of state prepare to kick-start fresh negotiations at Stormont

Karen Bradley and Simon Coveney will begin a renewed effort to restore devolution. Picture by Brian Lawless/PA Wire

TÁNAISTE Simon Coveney will join Secretary of State Karen Bradley in Belfast today as a fresh effort to restore devolution gets underway.

Mrs Bradley has promised a "short" and "intense" round of negotiations but has declined to set a deadline for the talks' conclusion.

Sinn Féin has previously signalled that it will give the process a fortnight before deciding whether to persevere.

The secretary of state is due to update Westminster on any progress in the talks on February 7 but has insisted that is not a deadline.

Today's discussions at Parliament Buildings are expected to begin with a series of bilateral meetings between the five main Stormont parties and the two governments.

The governments are hopeful they can move to round table negotiations by next week.

It is just over a year since Sinn Féin collapsed the executive amid the fallout from the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal.

The party's leader in the north, Michelle O'Neill, last night said Sinn Féin was ready to find a way through the impasse.

She said she was anticipating a "short sharp phase of negotiation".

"Issues like marriage rights, language rights, the bill of rights and legacy inquests should not be politically contentious – they should be issues that we are able to resolve here as part of the current discussions," she said.

"We believe that the biggest threats facing this executive are Brexit and Tory austerity and that the institutions are the best mitigation against those twin threats."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said his party would be "constructive" in seeking to secure a deal but he would urging the two governments to end the "cloak of secrecy"

The party has been calling for the secretary of state to publish what has been agreed between the DUP and Sinn Féin during two previous rounds of negotiations last year.

"Before a new round of talks begins, the progress that was made during the last phase should now be published so that all parties understand what was agreed, who has stretched themselves to find a resolution and where each of the issues stand," he said.

"Other parties cannot be asked to negotiate blind while the DUP and Sinn Féin refuse to put their cards on the table."

Ulster Unionist MLA Steve Aiken echoed the SDLP call for the extent of previous progress to be spelled out.

He said no one party should be allowed to stymie progress.

"The issues on the table aren't new and we have heard parties' positions on them many, many times over," he said.

"We will be entering these talks wanting to see the executive and assembly restored, and the Ulster Unionist Party will engage positively on that front – we want to see a successful resolution."

He said if the latest effort failed then the British government had a responsibility to ensure Northern Ireland had some form of functioning government.

Alliance leader Naomi Long said a "concerted effort from all parties" was required.

She repeated her call for an independent mediator to "inject fresh energy into the talks".

"It is incumbent on every party involved not to erect new barriers to agreement," she said.

A spokesman for the Northern Ireland Office said last night that progress had been made in talks between the DUP and Sinn Féin and that the secretary of state believed that there is the basis for a deal.

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