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A new round of North talks gets underway

North Secretary Karen Bradley.

 

By Anthony Neeson

Fresh talks between Northern Ireland’s political parties are to restart this week to try and break the deadlock at Stormont.

The new Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Karen Bradley, and Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, made the announcement of resumed talks last week.

The new round of talks to re-establish Stormont, which hasn’t met since Martin McGuinness’ resignation just over a year ago, are seen as a last chance to give power-sharing another go.

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The talks reconvene on Wednesday, and although there is no deadline, both governments are keen for a “short and intense” set of negotiations.

While Mrs. Bradley was upbeat regarding a positive outcome from the talks, that view is not shared by seasoned political commentators.

Mrs. Bradley said: “The gaps are narrow but there are significant differences to overcome. I believe it is possible to reach agreement. All of the parties have expressed their commitment to the restoration of the Executive.

“These will involve the five main parties, the UK government and the Irish government.

“Initially these talks will focus on gaining clarity and understanding on the progress made in the past seven months on a range of issues including formation of the Executive and what are known as legacy issues.

“Progress must be swift. It is clear Northern Ireland needs strong devolved government and political leadership.

"The people of Northern Ireland can’t continue to have their public services suffer with the lack of an Executive and without ministers making the key policy and budget decisions.

“Without an Executive Northern Ireland’s voice on critical issues will not be heard as strongly.”

She said she planned to update Westminster on progress no later than February 7.

Simon Coveney said the process would last “weeks rather than months.”

“We are very conscious of the time pressures here,” he said.

“These are a new set or pressures. There is a growing realization that decisions made here need to be made by people who are elected here. Inputting into big decisions taken elsewhere that will impact on Northern Ireland in the future.”

Mr. Coveney said progress had been made in the talks in previous months.

“We don’t need to redesign the entire process here to get agreement. We need focus and pressure and an understanding and context to allow the parties to work together to re-establish an Executive.”