UK Government to announce fresh talks to save powersharing in Northern Ireland

The UK Government will later announce a fresh round of political talks aimed at restoring powersharing in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland Secretary of State Karen Bradley will describe the negotiations, which will start next Wednesday, as the last opportunity to resurrect the devolved institutions in Belfast.

She will formally announce the new initiative alongside Irish foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney at Stormont later on Thursday.

The talks will involve the two governments and all five of the main Stormont parties.

Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney shakes hands with Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley at the Northern Ireland Office in Westminster, London (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney shakes hands with Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley at the Northern Ireland Office in Westminster, London (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The negotiations will take place in Belfast.

The region has been without a properly functioning powersharing executive for more than a year.

The Democratic Unionist/Sinn Fein-led coalition imploded in a row over a botched green energy scheme but the rift between the two largest parties subsequently widened to take in more long-standing 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.

DUP leader Arlene Foster (right) and Sinn Fein's Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill (Owen Humphreys/PA)
DUP leader Arlene Foster (right) and Sinn Fein's Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill (Owen Humphreys/PA)

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

In her announcement at Stormont House, Mrs Bradley is expected to state: "What has quickly become clear to me is that time is short and one last opportunity to reach agreement remains.

"Over the past eight months the political parties, particularly the DUP and Sinn Fein, have made progress in closing the gaps existing between them on a range of difficult issues that have prevented the formation of an Executive.

"The gaps are narrow but there are still significant differences to overcome.

"Based on my conversations so far, I believe it is possible to reach agreement.

"A short, intense set of political talks to restore the Executive will therefore commence on Wednesday January 24.

"These will involve the five main parties, the UK Government and, as appropriate, the Irish Government in accordance with the well-established three-stranded approach.

"The people of Northern Ireland cannot continue to have their public services suffer by the lack of an Executive and without ministers making key policy and budget decisions."

Karen Bradley meeting students at Belfast Metropolitan College in the Titanic Quarter of the city during her first visit as Northern Ireland Secretary (Liam McBurney/PA)
Karen Bradley meeting students at Belfast Metropolitan College in the Titanic Quarter of the city during her first visit as Northern Ireland Secretary (Liam McBurney/PA)

Mrs Bradley is just over a week into the job. She replaced James Brokenshire after he resigned from the Government on health grounds.

A UK Government source insisted Mrs Bradley was not thinking about any outcome other than the restoration of devolution.

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