Stormont leaders trade blows ahead of talks with Karen Bradley

Stormont leaders have traded fresh blows in their ongoing blame game ahead of talks with the UK government.

Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionists will have separate meetings with Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley in Belfast on Thursday, as Mrs Bradley continues to consider ways to revive devolution.

Northern Ireland has been without a properly functioning powersharing government for almost 16 months due to the bitter stand-off between the two main parties.

A row that broke out over a botched green energy scheme, and widened to encompass long-standing disputes such as the Irish language and gay marriage, shows no sign of resolution.

Negotiations to restore the institutions have effectively been on ice since Valentine's Day, when the talks broke up in acrimonious circumstances amid claim and counter claim about a proposed deal to break the impasse.

On Wednesday, Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O'Neill reiterated her view that the DUP's confidence and supply agreement with the UK government was preventing Mrs Bradley taking definitive action.

DUP leader Arlene Foster insisted Sinn Fein was the only one of Stormont's five main parties standing in the way of an immediate restoration of powersharing.

Mrs O'Neill said: "I will be telling the British Secretary of State that we need the powersharing institutions back up and running and there is a huge deal of frustration within the wider community at the unacceptable delay in restoring the Executive due to the British Government's pact with the DUP.

"The British Government have obligations under the Good Friday Agreement and if they are not prepared to confront the DUP, then they need to deal with the issues directly and in partnership with the Dublin government.

"The people of the north, our public services and our peace agreements should not be held to ransom by the DUP's anti-rights agenda."

Mrs Foster downplayed the significance of Thursday's meeting with Mrs Bradley.

"This is a routine meeting with the Secretary of State," she said.<

"I am glad she is meeting all the parties and I hope she will recognise that four of the five main parties would restore devolution immediately. There is only one party which has placed barriers and preconditions in the path of returning local decision making to Northern Ireland.

"In the absence of devolution there is still a need for decisions to be taken however.

"Over the last few days, issues such as the £15 0million delivered for broadband by the DUP through the confidence and supply agreement have been in the news.

"I will be urging the Secretary of State to ensure that necessary decisions are taken and the people of Northern Ireland do not suffer because of Sinn Fein's narrow agenda."

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