Stormont to host last-ditch talks to save powersharing in Northern Ireland

Last-ditch negotiations to save powersharing in Northern Ireland will begin at Stormont later.

More than a year since the institutions imploded, and with financial pressures mounting on the region's rudderless public services, the UK Government has characterised the talks as a final opportunity to salvage the devolved institutions.

The Democratic Unionist/Sinn Fein-led coalition crashed down amid a row over a botched green energy scheme but the rift between the two largest parties subsequently widened to take in more longstanding cultural and legacy disputes.

Proposals to protect Irish language speakers, the ban on same-sex marriage and a lack of consensus on how to deal with the legacy of the Troubles remain key areas of disagreement.

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A series of rounds of talks over the last 12 months have failed, with deadline after deadline set by the UK Government falling by the wayside.

Faltering exchanges last autumn were confined to behind-closed-doors discussions solely involving the DUP and Sinn Fein.

The latest initiative will involve all five of the main Stormont parties, with the Ulster Unionists, the SDLP and Alliance all promised a role in the talks.

Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley and Ireland's deputy premier and foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney will also participate.

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With the region having no local ministers to agree a budget for the next financial year, the UK Government will face increased pressure to reintroduce a form of Westminster direct rule if the latest talks bid fails.

Mrs Bradley is due to update the House of Commons on the state of play on February 7.

She has insisted this is not a deadline, rather a "milestone".

Ahead of the renewed talks, Mr Coveney said: "I do not dispute that there are difficult negotiations ahead for the parties and we all know that time is short.

"However, everyone agrees that devolution and a powersharing Executive are in the interests of everyone in Northern Ireland and I believe everyone is willing to strive to achieve that."