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07.50 18 Jan 2018


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Updated 12.55

The Irish and British governments have announced fresh talks to restore devolution in Northern Ireland, with the next round of negotiations to get underway next week.

It has been just over a year since the Stormont Assembly collapsed. 

Tánaiste Simon Coveney and the new Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley held a press conference this afternoon to announce that talks between Sinn Féin and the DUP are due to resume next Wednesday.

In a statement, Minister Coveney said he believes an agreement can still be achieved.

He observed: "Northern Ireland has now been without a functioning devolved government for more than a year. This is not a position that can be sustained for much longer.

"We all have a responsibility over the coming weeks to make every possible effort to secure the effective operation of the devolved power-sharing institutions."

He added: "Both Governments will work in partnership to achieve this and I look forward to being back here in Belfast next Wednesday for bilateral engagement with all the parties." 

Ms Bradley, meanwhile, said the British government will have to consider its options if there is no progress within weeks.

She noted: "These include setting a budget for 2018/19, the future of MLA pay, the prospect of a further election - which I continue to keep under review - and ultimately other arrangements to ensure that Northern Ireland is able to benefit from the good government that its people both need and deserve."

Negotiations

Government sources have said a lot of work has gone in to get all sides back around the table, adding that there is not a lot of time left to restore the Executive.

Politicians have sat through a number of rounds of crisis talks aimed at restoring the Stormont Executive – however all have failed to produce any agreement.

The status of the Irish language remains a major sticking point.

Sinn Féin is calling for the introduction of a standalone Irish Language Act, bringing Gaeilge onto a par with English in the region.  

The DUP had proposed a hybrid act, accommodating both the Irish language and those who speak in Ulster-Scots.

The introduction of a stand-alone act was agreed by all parties at the landmark St Andrews talks that restored devolution in 2007.

Last week, DUP leader Arlene Foster warned the “clock is ticking” on the restoration of power-sharing and said that is no deal can be reached some of form of direct rule from London must be put in place.

Sinn Féin leader Michelle O’Neill has noted that the DUPs apparent eagerness to return to direct rule “makes clear they have no interest in resolving the issues at heart of the current crisis and no interest in re-entering powersharing on the basis of equality and respect.”

The new Northern Secretary Karen Bradley has faced a baptism of fire since replacing James Brokenshire last week.

She is joining an uphill battle in attempting to reconcile the different parties –however she has said she is “absolutely determined” to find a way.

Sinn Fein and the DUP – alongside representatives of the Irish and British governments - will meet next Wednesday to try and hammer out a deal.

Reporting Sean Defoe, Michael Staines and Stephen McNeice


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