Northern parties to attend "intensive" talks on Stormont

The Northern Secretary has set an Easter deadline to reach an agreement that would restore the power-sharing Executive

Northern parties to attend "intensive" talks on Stormont

File photo, the Parliament Building in Stormont, 28-03-2017. Image: Eamonn Farrell

Talks will resume in the North today in an effort to restore the power-sharing executive.

Britain’s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, James Brokenshire is set to intensify efforts to reach an agreement this week.

He has given political parties a final deadline of Easter to find a breakthrough - after the original cut-off point passed last week.

Should the deadline pass again, Mr Brokenshire will be obliged to call a new round of elections – or potentially move for a return to direct rule from London.

The last time direct rule was introduced, it took five years to restore power-sharing.

Mr Brokenshire came under criticism following the original talks after it emerged there had been no all-party element to the negotiations – essentially leaving smaller parties out in the cold.

Both the British and Irish governments have called for this latest round of talks to have an agreed agenda and include regular round-table discussions.

Negotiations

The main stumbling blocks up to now have been the future of the Irish Language Act and methods for dealing with the legacy of the troubles.

At the last round of elections Sinn Féin secured its best-ever performance to cut the DUPs 10-seat advantage to one.

The party’s leader in the North Michelle O’Neill has insisted the DUPs approach to negotiations must reflect the new political landscape brought about by the result.

DUP leader Arlene Foster on the other hand has claimed there is little to suggest Sinn Féin wants to secure a deal and accused the party of demanding too many concessions.

Ulster Unionist Tom Elliott has warned that all sides will need to compromise in order to restore the Executive:

“The parties have got to show some flexibility if they want to make a deal and if they don’t then they would be safer saying so now and just let us all know,” he said.

“I think they just have to concentrate now on trying to work something out and I suppose look at the next stage closer to the deadline in ten days.”

Truth and reconciliation 

Yesterday the Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams indicated he might finally be willing to discuss his role in The Troubles if it would be beneficial to the peace process.

He warned however that he will only take part if it is as part of a Forum for Peace and Reconciliation - which would offer immunity from prosecution.

He criticised the British government for under-funding the peace process and warned that any truth forum would need significant financial backing.

“The Lord Chief Justice has said that, in terms of legacy inquests for example, that the funding should be made available,” he said.

“There is funding set aside under that agreement and the British government is refusing to issue that funding and some of these families have fought for an inquest, I know in one case for 43 years – so that is not fair.”

Stormont business has been taken over by the civil service in the absence of a functioning Executive.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Charlie Flanagan has warned that it is critically important that devolved government be restored and working effectively as soon as possible – especially with the prospect of Brexit looming.