Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 February 2020

Northern Ireland launches new government talks after bitter UK election

Loss of votes by two main parties drives resumption of power-sharing negotiations

A tour bus makes its way past parliament buildings on the Stormont estate in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Reuters  
A tour bus makes its way past parliament buildings on the Stormont estate in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Reuters  

Talks to restore Northern Ireland’s devolved government resume on Monday to try to end a near three-year stand-off between the two largest political parties.

Senior political leaders have said they are determined to return to negotiations following last week’s UK national elections which shifted the balance of power in the province.

Northern Ireland’s devolved government at Stormont was set up under the 1998 agreement that established peace on the divided island of Ireland after decades of civil strife.

But the assembly, designed to allow power to be shared between communities divided by politics and religion, has not sat since January 2017 following a dispute over issues such as language and same sex marriage.

It appears that the two biggest parties – the Democratic Unionists (DUP), which supports continuing ties with the rest of the UK, and Sinn Fein, which supports a united Ireland - were damaged at the ballot box by the stand-off.

The parties said they wanted to return to talks on Monday with the looming threat of mandatory elections to the assembly if they were unable to strike a deal by January 13.

Julian Smith, the Northern Ireland Secretary, said he spoke with five party leaders on Sunday to restart the process.

"Good calls with all five party leaders this morning. Look forward to starting positive process tomorrow to get Stormont back up and running."

The talks come after the DUP lost its pivotal role in influencing UK politics following Boris Johnson’s landslide election win. His Conservative minority government had previously relied on DUP votes to get any legislation through parliament.

The DUP and Sinn Fein both lost seats last week. Nigel Dodds, the deputy leader of the DUP, lost his seat in North Belfast to Sinn Fein.

Meanwhile Sinn Fein lost a seat with a huge swing to the moderate nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP).

Sinn Fein’s Martin Kenny said that his party “absolutely” wants to be back in Stormont in January. “Parties need to agree to implement the agreements that have already been reached," he said.

The sentiment was backed by Arlene Foster, the leader of the DUP. "We live in a divided society and to move forward will require all the parties to step up to the plate,” she said in a statement on Sunday. “Northern Ireland can only move forward when we are prepared to work together."

Updated: December 16, 2019 01:53 PM

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