British and Irish PMs to visit Northern Ireland to urge end to political crisis
Northern Ireland has been without an executive and assembly for over a year
British prime minister Theresa May and Irish leader Leo Varadkar will meet with Northern Ireland’s main political parties in Belfast on Monday to urge the restoration of the province’s devolved administration.
Northern Ireland has been without an executive and assembly for over a year following Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein’s withdrawal from a power-sharing government with its rival, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
Despite repeated deadlines, the two parties have since failed to reach any new agreement, leaving a lack of political leadership that critics say has sidelined Northern Ireland as Britain negotiates its exit from the European Union.
A statement from Mrs May’s office said she would remind the political leaders of the “many pressing issues facing Northern Ireland” and say that a resolution would benefit the country’s citizens.
Mrs May will also say that good progress has been made in recent days, echoing statements made by both the DUP and Sinn Fein on Friday.
Mr Varadkar, who on Sunday warned Mrs May that time was running out for Britain to spell out exactly what kind of a post-Brexit deal it wants from the EU, will hold a meeting with the British prime minister while the two leaders are in Belfast, his office said.
He will also use the visit to assess the state of play in the Belfast negotiations and encourage the parties to reach an agreement, his office said in a statement.
Before the latest round of talks, disagreement remained on a range of issues including same-sex marriage, which is illegal in Northern Ireland despite being legal in the rest of Britain and Ireland, rights for Irish-language speakers, and funding for inquests into deaths during decades of Protestant-Catholic sectarian violence before a 1998 peace deal.
The British government, which is overseeing the talks alongside the Irish government, has already had to take steps towards ruling the region directly from London for the first time in a decade, setting its budget late last year.
Many in the province fear that direct rule would further destabilise the delicate political balance between the two sides who, until last year, had run the province since 2007 under the terms of the 1998 Good Friday peace accord.
Updated: February 12, 2018 06:16 AM