Simon Coveney hopeful of powersharing resolution ahead of Karen Bradley talks


Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney insisted all parties want to break the powersharing deadlock in Belfast as he arrived in London for talks with newly appointed Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley.

The Irish deputy prime minister said there remained "significant challenges" but both governments wanted to find a way to resolve the stand off.

Mr Coveney arrived at the Northern Ireland office after flying in from a visit to the Middle East.

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He said: "I wanted to come to London as soon as possible to meet Karen and to talk about the challenge we face together.

"I think we know there are significant challenges ahead but also think there is a desire across all the parties in Northern Ireland and, indeed, both governments, to find a way to help to facilitate the reestablishment of functioning executive."

The meeting came after a week where political relations in Northern Ireland were further strained, this time by controversies around the 1976 Kingsmill massacre in south Armagh.

The furore was sparked when Sinn Fein MP Barry McElduff posted a social media video of him with a Kingsmill branded loaf on his head on the anniversary of an atrocity that saw republican paramilitaries shoot dead 10 Protestant workmen.

Mr McElduff, who apologised and insisted the video was not a reference to the massacre, was suspended by Sinn Fein for three months.

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Unionists reacted angrily, both to the post and the extent of Sinn Fein's punishment, and the incident appeared to further reduce the already bleak prospects of a deal to restore powersharing.

The situation was exacerbated on Wednesday when a number of unionist politicians retweeted a graphic satirical cartoon that portrayed the Mr McElduff controversy by depicting the aftermath of the Kingsmill outrage, with blood running from a bullet-riddled van.

The incidents prompted the sole survivor of the Kingsmill shootings, Alan Black, to implore politicians on all sides to stop trying to "poke each other's eye out" and instead help the victims.

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However, a week of political rancour and animosity appeared to end on a more optimistic note when two senior DUP and Sinn Fein members engaged in more conciliatory exchanges on BBC NI's The View on Thursday night.

In a forthright condemnation of the Kingsmill outrage, Sinn Fein's John O'Dowd, who lost three family members at the hands of loyalist paramilitaries the day before Kingsmill, said he was "ashamed" by the sectarian attack.

The DUP's Edwin Poots welcomed the remarks and said his party was determined to see devolution returned.

Despite that even tempered exchange, the chances of a swift return to powersharing still appear slim, with no public sign either party is willing to compromise on the long-standing cultural and legacy disputes at the heart of the year-long crisis.