Taoiseach says powersharing deal could be clinched early next year
A deal to restore powersharing in Northern Ireland could be clinched early next year, the Taoiseach has said.
On Monday, Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire will introduce Westminster legislation to pass a budget to run public services in the absence of a devolved government in Belfast.
Leo Varadkar said he discussed Northern Ireland with the Prime Minister every fortnight.
"It is my firm view that it is possible to come to an agreement to re-establish the Executive and Assembly, to get devolution working again and to ensure that Northern Ireland has a unique voice at this important time.
"The gap between the parties in terms of substance is not huge, it is really a matter now of political willingness and trust, and it is possible to come to an agreement, if not in the next few weeks then perhaps early in the new year.
"I am very much involved in that."
He met DUP leader Arlene Foster and Mr Brokenshire over the weekend, and will be meeting Sinn Fein this week.
Mr Brokenshire said he was firmly focused on bringing the parties at Stormont together and the budget should not be seen as some sort of move towards direct rule from London.
Gerry Adams has called for a British/Irish inter-governmental conference on Northern Ireland.
The sticking points between the DUP and Sinn Fein include an Irish language act.
Sinn Fein's leader in Northern Ireland Michelle O'Neill said a deal was only possible if the DUP and British government upheld equality.
"Sinn Fein remains committed to the restoration of the institutions and the Executive.
"However, they only have value if they enjoy the confidence and support of the people they were established to serve.
"They only have meaning if they are delivering fairly for all our people based on the principles of equality and mutual respect on which they were founded.
"If the DUP or anyone else wish to exercise political power in Government in the north of Ireland now or in the future, then the cost is to embrace a rights-based society and equal partnership government, which works for everyone."
Mrs Foster said they must get on with bringing back devolved government to Northern Ireland.
She said Mr Brokenshire's budget would bring certainty but it would not be long before the next budget would have to be decided.
"We really must get on and bring devolution back."
She said they could come to a good agreement for nationalists and unionists.
"We want to see devolution back and we want to see government back because I am very clear that is what people in Northern Ireland want.
"Not at any price it has to be said, but they want it back and they want government back.
"There are still significant differences there, but do I think those can be overcome? I certainly think we can work together to make an agreement that is good for unionism and for nationalism."