North Secretary Julian Smith
By Anthony Neeson
Talks to reinstate power-sharing at Stormont are due to restart just days after the British general election.
Political parties in Northern Ireland are fighting in 18 constituencies in the December 12 Westminster poll.
However, on the following Monday, Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Julian Smith, expects the parties to meet and start the process of triggering a return to Stormont.
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Mr. Smith said that if an agreement is not reached by January 13 then fresh elections will be called.
In February last year politicians thought they had reached an agreement to return to Stormont, however, the DUP pulled out of the deal at the eleventh hour, refusing to sign up to an Irish Language Act for the North.
Sinn Féin, who were prepared to sign a deal the last time, have reiterated that the issues that have prevented the party from returning to government remain the same.
Michelle O’Neill MLA, the party’s northern leader, said Sinn Féin stands ready to restore the Assembly.
However, she added: “But any restoration must ensure the Assembly is sustainable, credible and has the confidence of the public.
“The key to any agreement is resolving the outstanding issues which lie at the heart of the talks.
“Sinn Féin stands ready to re-enter talks in the coming weeks and will work with all parties and both governments to reach a fair agreement.”
Julian Smith said the parties had made a commitment to “getting back into talks.”
“We can’t let this run and run, we have got to get this sorted,” he said.
“The number of issues is relatively small. There is a deal ready to go, my colleague Simon Coveney (Tánaiste) has been meeting with Sinn Féin and others this week.
“I have been continuing to meet with the parties in Northern Ireland. Let’s see what the election result is, but in all circumstances every party needs to get back into serious discussions that week before Christmas.”
Northern Ireland has been without a government since Sinn Féin pulled out of the Executive in January 2017 over the RHI heating scandal.