New round of talks involving all parties to start in North – May and Varadkar

Lyra McKee’s death ‘cannot be in vain’, Northern Secretary Karen Bradley says

British Prime Minister Theresa May and the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at  the funeral of journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

British Prime Minister Theresa May and the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the funeral of journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

 

The death of Lyra McKee “cannot be in vain”, Northern Secretary Karen Bradley said in Belfast on Friday, when she and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney urged parties in the North to seize the current opportunity to restore the Stormont Executive and Assembly.

They were speaking at Stormont shortly after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British prime minister Theresa May announced that new negotiations aimed at reinstating devolution and involving all the main northern parties are to start on May 7th.

Mr Varadkar and Mrs May in a joint statement said that following the murder of journalist Lyra McKee by the New IRA in Derry they had “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,” they said.

The Taoiseach and the prime minister made clear that these negotiations would be quite expansive, addressing matters relating to Northern Ireland and to North-South and British-Irish relations.

Key matters to be addressed include the Irish language, same-sex marriage, reforming the civil service and the system of administration, and dealing with the past.

The two leaders are also to convene a meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference on Wednesday week to try to add impetus to the talks.

At Stormont, Mr Coveney and Ms Bradley said that the talks would be reviewed at the end of May. They were aiming for a deal by “mid-summer”, added Mr Coveney.

He later clarified that the governments were not setting down a mid-July deadline, but were planning for a deal to be struck much earlier than that.

Public demand

The governments believe that there is a real public demand for political progress in the wake of Ms McKee’s murder. “Lyra symbolised the new Northern Ireland and her tragic death cannot be in vain,” said Ms Bradley.

“All of us must take inspiration from what Lyra achieved in her life and work to make Northern Ireland a brighter, more peaceful and prosperous place for everyone. My absolute determination is to see the restoration of all the political institutions established by the 1998 [Belfast] Agreement,” she added.

Asked how confident she was that the fresh round of talks would succeed, Ms Bradley said: “I think what we saw this time last week – with the party leaders coming together, going to the Creggan estate, standing united, putting out a joint statement – really gives me a clear indication that the party leaders do want to do this.”

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley during a press conference at Stormont in Belfast. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley during a press conference at Stormont in Belfast. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Mr Coveney said: “I think what every decent-thinking person in Northern Ireland wants now is to see us take that spark of determination that I think we have all felt in the last few days and to see if we can build a momentum from that to do something real and positive.”

The Minister also made a point of urging young Catholics to support and join the PSNI. On the issue of dissident republicans, he said there was an “urgent need for positive and determined action” because “we are leaving far too much wide open space for other kinds of voices that don’t believe in democracy but that peddle hate and fear”.

Mr Coveney said the British-Irish Council would convene on May 8th, the day after the fresh talks on powersharing begin.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O’Neill said agreement was achievable notwithstanding the difficulties. “We did reach a deal last February [in 2018] so a deal is possible,” she said.

This was a reference to a reported accommodation reached on a range of issues between the DUP and Sinn Féin in February last year, but which the DUP could not sell to its grassroots because of opposition to a proposed Irish language Act.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said there was no such finalised agreement last year, while acknowledging that progress was made at the time. She said on Friday the DUP would enter the talks with a “willingness to find a solution for everybody in Northern Ireland and to get a balanced deal for all the people”.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said a “turning point” had been reached after the murder of Ms McKee. He added: “The tragic events of the last week demand a response from political leaders. That response cannot be limited to strong statements one day and a retreat to the trenches the next. People are demanding a return to partnership.”

In full: The joint statement from Theresa May and Leo Varadkar

“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.

“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 aim of these talks is quickly to re-establish to full operation the democratic institutions of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement – the NI Executive, Assembly and North-South Ministerial Council – so that they can effectively serve all of the people for the future.

“We have asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Tánaiste to meet later today in Belfast to set out our proposed approach and to commence the talks process as soon as possible after the local elections in Northern Ireland.

“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 co-operation, and political stability in Northern Ireland.

“We understand the complexity of the underlying concerns of all parties, and the need for renewed trust, mutual respect, generosity and new thinking to resolve the issues.

“As prime minister and Taoiseach, we are determined to work together to ensure this process comes to a successful conclusion.

“We will review progress at the end of May.”(Additional reporting: – PA)