Irish and British governments want to inject fresh ’dynamic’ to talks

Simon Coveney and James Brokenshire try to chart way to restore powersharing

Michelle O’Neill has written to the British and Irish governments and the NI parties proposing that talks aimed at reinstating the powersharing institutions restart next Monday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Michelle O’Neill has written to the British and Irish governments and the NI parties proposing that talks aimed at reinstating the powersharing institutions restart next Monday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

The British and Irish Governments are trying to create a “different dynamic” to the Stormont talks as they step up planning for the resumption of negotiations aimed at restoring the Northern Executive and Assembly.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney will hold discussions in Dublin with the Northern Secretary James Brokenshire on Tuesday with both Ministers also engaging in preparatory talks with the North’s five main parties over this week and next.

Mr Coveney and Mr Brokenshire will discuss Brexit in Dublin on Tuesday but finding a way to inject real impetus into resumed multi-party talks will also be high on the agenda.

The last round of talks broke down in early July with the DUP and Sinn Féin deadlocked on issues such as an Irish language act and same sex marriage. Northern Ireland has been without a First Minister and Deputy First Minister since January and a working Executive since March.

“We have to get some different dynamic to these forthcoming talks so that we can get a positive result this time,” said a senior Irish source on Monday.

As well as meeting Mr Brokenshire, the Minister for Foreign Affairs is also due to travel to Belfast next week for more informal talks with the parties ahead of the resumption of structured Stormont talks.

While Sinn Féin’s Northern Ireland leader Michelle O’Neill has written to both governments proposing the resumption of negotiations from Monday, the source said this week and much of next week probably would be more about planning how formal talks would proceed.

There have been some suggestions that in order to create a “hot house” talks atmosphere that the negotiations should move to some venue outside Northern Ireland. The source said that at this stage such a move was unlikely although it was not being ruled out.

“All options are open,” he said. “Some kind of hot house phase could form part of the talks but there are no plans for that at the moment.”

A spokeswoman for Mr Brokenshire said he “will be talking to party leaders this coming week where the priority must be to ensure that politicians locally are working together to strengthen the economy, to deal with the challenges and opportunities of EU exit, and build a stronger, shared society based on respect for everyone”.

Meanwhile, Ms O’Neill’s call for the talks to resume next Monday, a bank holiday in the North, was met with some scepticism.

While some unionist politicians such as Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister have argued that it is in Sinn Féin’s interests that Stormont not succeed, Ms O’Neill said on Monday her party was “resolved to making the institutions work”.

“We believe in the Assembly, we believe in a local government, and local ministers taking decisions. But that Assembly and that Executive has to meet on the basis of rights, of respect, and of equality,” she said.

Former DUP Minister of Finance Simon Hamilton said Sinn Féin was holding Northern Ireland to “ransom” by demanding the implementation of “political wish-list” before it would re-enter Stormont.

“The DUP are not saying that we shouldn’t be dealing with issues like the Irish language, like other cultures as well. But we should be doing those in parallel with forming a government,” he told the BBC on Monday.

“The DUP would go up to Stormont this morning and form a government to deal with those difficult issues that there are around health, education and the economy, which we believe are more important than the ones that Sinn Féin are stalling the restoration of an Executive on,” added Mr Hamilton.

The SDLP leader Colum Eastwood accused the DUP and Sinn Féin of using their dominant electoral positions as “weapons of retrenchment and division”.

“There is now an urgent need to restore the powersharing institutions. A summer of opportunity for the parties to get together and work on these issues has now been wasted and all the while, our health service and our schools have been bent to breaking point,” he said.

The Ulster Unionist Party leader Robin Swann said Sinn Féin “red lines” on matters such as the Irish language were limiting the prospects of a deal when the talks do resume.

Alliance Assembly member Kellie Armstrong said there was no reason “why the talks process cannot begin again immediately”.