British and Irish governments intensify efforts to restore powersharing

Tánaiste and Northern Secretary joining five main parties in negotiations

Tánaiste and  Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney is going to  Stormont  as he and and Northern Secretary Karen Bradley and the political leaders seek to reach agreement on key issues. Photograph: PA

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney is going to Stormont as he and and Northern Secretary Karen Bradley and the political leaders seek to reach agreement on key issues. Photograph: PA

 

The British and Irish governments are to intensify efforts to restore the Northern Executive and Assembly as the Northern Ireland parties continue their talks at Stormont.

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney is to join Northern Secretary Karen Bradley and the North’s five main parties in another round of negotiations at Stormont on Thursday.

Next week there is to be a further intensification of the talks in an effort to strike a deal by the end-of-June deadline set by the two governments.

Mr Coveney is expected to be at Stormont for most of next week as he and Ms Bradley and the political leaders seek to reach agreement on key issues.

Critical matters

Since early May the parties and the two leaders have been negotiating a wide range of matters in five working groups, addressing issues such as the economy; rights, language and identity; transparency, accountability and the operation of the Northern Executive.

While that wider work will continue, sources said the two governments and party leaders have narrowed down the critical matters that must be resolved to three or four issues: an Irish language act, same sex marriage, ensuring any restored Executive and Assembly is sustainable, and devising a workable programme for government.

Mood was positive

Party leaders said last week that the mood was positive at the talks and that genuine efforts were being made to reach agreement. Senior talks sources said a constructive approach to the negotiations was being maintained this week and that “the interaction has been good”.

There is still concern, however, whether in the face of Brexit, the focus at Westminster on the Conservatives choosing a new leader and prime minister, and the approach of the July marching season, a deal can be reached by the end of June.

Some parties, according to sources, have suspicions about whether the DUP would be prepared to sign off on a deal that include matters as sensitive as the Irish language in advance of the Twelfth of July. Additionally there are questions about whether the DUP would agree a deal to restore the Executive and Assembly before it is known who will be the next British prime minister.

One senior source said there was concern that the DUP, which holds the balance of power in the House of Commons, might prefer to see what leverage it could exert on the new prime minister before it would agree to a new powersharing deal, and that it could be September before there is a realistic chance of a restoration of devolution.