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All-party talks could see Stormont up and running by mid-July, says Coveney

The talks are to begin following the Northern Ireland local elections.

Image: Niall Carson

POLITICAL LEADERS IN Northern Ireland have agreed to commence fresh talks in a bid to restore power-sharing in Stormont. 

Karen Bradley, Northern Ireland’s secretary of state, and Tánaiste Simon Coveney met in Belfast this afternoon to set out an approach. 

Talks are set to commence following the local elections in Northern Ireland next week. 

Speaking to reporters in Belfast this afternoon, Coveney said the talks would include all of the parties in the north and not just the DUP and Sinn Féin.

He said previous talks, dominated by the two biggest parties was a “frustrating process the last time” and that the Ulster Unionionist party, the SDLP and the Alliance would be central to the new round of talks.

Coveney did not speculate on a specific time frame for a deal to be made, but suggested Stormont could be back up and running “well in advance of mid-July”.

Northern Ireland secretary Karen Bradley reiterated the Tánaiste’s comments.

“I think this will be much more inclusive, it will include all parties in the discussion and I think that’s important if we want all parties to be part of an executive,” she said.

“Today is the day we want to get started – there is an urgency about this.

“An Tánaiste said earlier there is always an excuse, always not the right time… We need to get on with it.

“The people of Northern Ireland have been absolutely clear they want the politicians to come together.

“If there is any message that the politicians have heard this week it has to be that.”

A joint-statement from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British Prime Minister Theresa May said: 

“In coming together with other political leaders in St Anne’s Cathedral to pay tribute to Lyra McKee, we gave expression to the clear will and determination of all of the people of these islands to reject violence and to support peace and a better future for everyone in Northern Ireland.

“We also heard the unmistakable message to all political leaders that people across Northern Ireland want to see a new momentum for political progress.  We agree that what is now needed is actions and not just words from all of us who are in positions of leadership.”

On Wednesday, leaders from across the political divide, including DUP leader Arlene Foster and Sinn Féin leader MaryLou McDonald, sat side-by-side at St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast, at the funeral of Lyra McKee.

The 29-year-old journalist was killed during riots involving dissident republicans in Creggan, Co Derry the week before. 

“We have agreed to establish a new process of political talks, involving all the main political parties in Northern Ireland, together with the UK and Irish Governments, in accordance with the three stranded process,” the statement said. 

“In addition, we have agreed that there should be a meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference during the same period. The Conference will consider East/West relations, security cooperation, and political stability in Northern Ireland.”

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald repeated previous comments that “credible and sustainable institutions based on equality, respect and genuine partnership government” were central to the talks. 

“These talks will be a test of whether the British government and the DUP are finally willing to resolve the issues of equality, rights and integrity in government, which caused the collapse of the power-sharing institutions two years ago,” she said. 

DUP leader Arlene Foster said her party “would not be found wanting in any talks process” but that the assembly should be restored first of all, and talks to run “parallel” to this. 

“Our preference would be for the Assembly to be restored and have the talks process in parallel,” she said. 

“Talks should respect the three stranded approach and be focused on delivering a fair and balanced deal that both unionists and nationalists can support.

“Anyone who thinks agreement can be reached through a one-sided wish-list being implemented is not routed in reality,” she added. 

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