New talks aim to break North impasse

Sinn Fein Leader Mary Lou McDonald (left) with DUP leader Arlene Foster (right) at a vigil for Lyra McKee. Picture: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Talks to break the political impasse in the North are set to reconvene in the next fortnight amid mounting public pressure.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney and Northern Ireland secretary Karen Bradley are expected to announce new talks when they meet in Belfast today.

Sinn Féin and the DUP have come under pressure to break the deadlock after Fr Martin Magill challenged politicians at the funeral of murdered journalist Lyra McKee in Belfast this week.

Fr Magill received a standing ovation when he asked why it had taken the death of Ms McKee for politicians to stand together.

Talks are now expected to resume in the next two weeks; however, significant differences remain between the two parties.

The political impasse has left the North without a functioning executive since the beginning of 2017 but proposals put forward by DUP leader Arlene Foster were yesterday rejected by Sinn Féin.

The DUP has remained firmly opposed to marriage equality and the introduction of a language act, which Sinn Féin views as key demands.

Ms Foster had put forward 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 such as over same-sex marriage.

Ms Foster said Sinn Féin could not get everything it wanted, “a 5-0 victory”, and her party receive nothing.

“We want to see the assembly returned,” said Ms Foster.

I think if you want to have the unionist population of Northern Ireland subscribing to an assembly and subscribing to what’s going on in Northern Ireland, then you have to have an agreement that not only works for Sinn Féin and nationalism but one that works for unionism as well and I think that’s very important.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said her party wants to see a resolution to the impasse, but that “the issues at play here aren’t trivialities”. She remained adamant that an Irish language act is still a requirement.

Deputy leader Michelle O’Neill outright rejected the DUP plan and said: “In terms of what Arlene Foster has proposed today, in terms of going into the executive and having a parallel process, that will not work.

“The citizens here deserve to have their rights delivered on marriage equality, language rights, legacy inquest rights.

“These things need to be delivered, and that in itself then paves the way for the institutions to be restored.”

Meanwhile, Labour leader Brendan Howlin called for the establishment of a Northern Ireland Citizens Assembly, which he said would be a democratic way to deal with issues that have prevented the DUP and Sinn Féin from re-entering government.

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