British and Irish governments call for ‘new thinking’ to break Stormont impasse

The British and Irish governments have launched a new round of political talks and called for “new thinking” to re-establish devolved powersharing in Northern Ireland.

Negotiations are expected to take place as soon as possible after local council elections in Northern Ireland on May 2. All the main parties will be invited.

On Wednesday, Catholic peacemaking priest Father Martin Magill challenged politicians as to why it had taken the death of 29-year-old Lyra McKee shot by dissident republicans to unite them, at her funeral.

The order of service at the funeral of murdered journalist Lyra McKee
The order of service at the funeral of murdered journalist Lyra McKee

Prime Minister Theresa May and Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: “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.”

The institutions have been suspended for more than two years following a row between former governing partners the DUP and Sinn Fein. Endless rounds of negotiations failed to break the deadlock.

Sinn Fein has rejected DUP leader Arlene Foster’s latest offer to move the political impasse in Northern Ireland.

The British and Irish premiers said: “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 Northern Ireland Executive, Assembly and North-South Ministerial Council – so that they can effectively serve all of the people for the future.”

Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley and Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney are expected to hold a press conference later on Friday in Belfast.

The Prime Minister and Taoiseach added: “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.”

They will review progress at the end of May.

They also 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.

Mrs Foster wants a twin-track approach where the devolved institutions are restored quickly to deal with issues like running the health service, while a separate process addresses disagreements like that over same-sex marriage.

Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O’Neill has rejected that and said issues like marriage equality and protection for the Irish language need to be delivered to pave the way for restoration of the devolved institutions.