Arlene Foster warns Irish election could hinder NI powersharing talks

A snap general election in Ireland would further hamper efforts to restore powersharing north of the border, Democratic Unionist leader Arlene Foster has said.

Mrs Foster claimed an election campaign in Ireland would draw Sinn Féin's focus away from finding a resolution to the long running impasse at Stormont.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May has signalled a desire for Northern Ireland's two main parties to re-engage in negotiations next week, but that prospect looks unlikely given the deteriorating state of relations between them.

The gulf dividing the parties appeared to widen rather than narrow this week, with rows about the legacy of the Troubles adding to the obstacles blocking a return to devolved government.

The DUP leader said an election in the Republic would reduce the chances of a breakthrough in the short term.

"Certainly in respect of the Stormont talks I assume that if an election as called in the Republic of Ireland that Sinn Fein's focus will be entirely on Dublin and the elections down there," said Mrs Foster.

"So I think it would have a huge impact on whether we would be able to bring around devolution this year to Northern Ireland and, as I understand, the election would have to take place before Christmas, so that means December would really be out in terms of the talks."

In an interview with BBC Radio Ulster's Inside Politics show, she added: "But we are not there yet, let's wait and see what happens in Dublin over the coming days."

Northern Ireland has been without a properly functioning powersharing administration since January.

The institutions imploded when the late Martin McGuinness quit as Sinn Fein deputy first minister amid a row about a botched green energy scheme.

The rift over the renewable heat incentive (RHI) affair exposed a series of more deep-seated issues dividing the region's two largest parties.

One of the key sticking points is a proposed piece of legislation to protect Irish language speakers in the region.

Multiple UK government-set deadlines to form an administration have fallen by the wayside and Northern Ireland is edging toward the re-imposition of direct rule by Westminster.

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