Talks on restoring North powersharing to have three-week limit

Coveney and Bradley set to announce fresh talks to end stalemate

Fr Martin Magill receives a standing ovation as he asks why it took the death of journalist Lyra McKee to bring politicians from different parties together.

 

New all-party talks aimed at restoring the Northern Ireland power sharing institutions are to be given a sharp time limit of about three weeks.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney and Northern Ireland secretary Karen Bradley are set to announce a fresh round of talks on Friday in an attempt to get Stormont back up and running for the first time since January 2017.

The institutions collapsed amid controversy over the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme.

The talks will begin the week after the local elections in Northern Ireland, which take place next Thursday, May 2nd. It is understood the precise details have largely been finalised but have yet to be formally signed off between the British and Irish governments.

Public pressure has mounted for the restoration of the Stormont Assembly and the power sharing executive since the murder last week of Lyra McKee, the 29-year-old journalist who was shot in Derry by the New IRA.

Earlier this week, both Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British prime minister Theresa May attended Lyra McKee’s funeral, which saw Fr Martin Magill challenge politicians as to why it had taken her death to unite them.

In talks early last year to resolve the political impasse, issues such as the Irish language, same sex marriage and dealing with the past prevented the parties reaching an agreement.

However, significant progress was made on the key issue blocking a deal, the Irish language, with the DUP and Sinn Féin appearing to have signed up to broad all-embracing legislation addressing the Irish language, Ulster Scots and respecting cultural diversity.

However at the time the DUP was unable to sell the deal to its grassroots with the result that these talks collapsed in February 2018.

Well-placed sources said the new talks would be informed by the last process but the intention of the negotiations is to “broaden out the discussion” in an attempt to seek an agreement. This, it is argued, would ensure the talks do not exclusively focus on areas which caused previous disagreements.

The talks would be “focused” and “time limited” for around “three-ish weeks”. It was also acknowledged by well placed figures that the British and Irish governments will need to “step in” and take a strong role in the talks than may have been the case in the past.

Speaking on Thursday, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said her party will not “capitulate” on an Irish language act, adding there was nothing trivial about insisting on equality and rights. DUP leader Arlene Foster repeated her call for Stormont to be restored immediately, with no pre-conditions, and a parallel talks process to deal with issues of disagreement.