Belfast Telegraph

'Good progress' in political talks

Good progress has been made in the latest series of meetings in the political talks process in Northern Ireland, the Irish foreign affairs minister said.

Charlie Flanagan gave an upbeat assessment of the process after two days of engagements in Belfast.

The initiative set up by the UK Government last month is attempting to find a resolution to a series of disputes creating logjam at Stormont.

Thorny impasses left over from the peace process, such as those over flags, parades and the legacy of the past, are on the agenda, as are wrangles over the workings and structures of the powersharing administration.

The failure of the Executive to implement the UK Government's welfare reforms - a stance that is costing millions of pounds in Treasury penalties - is also being discussed.

Mr Flanagan said a "comprehensive" series of meetings and engagements involving all five of the Executive parties and both governments had been held over the last two days.

He said a full day was dedicated to discussions on how best to deal with the legacy of the past yesterday, with financial and budgetary matters being the focus of discussions today.

"I very much welcome the clear progress that has been made during the talks this week," he said.

"The intensification of the process has enabled very substantial discussions on key issues, including dealing with the past.

"I was encouraged by the positive atmosphere and the constructive approach demonstrated by all parties. While challenges clearly remain to reaching a comprehensive agreement, I believe we are moving in the right direction."

The bulk of the talks are being conducted in bilateral format, with the parties meeting each other, Mr Flanagan and Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers for one-to-one encounters.

Ms Villiers and Mr Flanagan are to produce an interim report on the progress of the talks for Prime Minister David Cameron and Irish premier Taoiseach Enda Kenny by the end of the month.

Ms Villiers also hailed the level of engagement by the parties at the meetings, which were held in Stormont House.

"I welcome the significant increase in the degree and pace of engagement by all talks participants this week, with the parties maintaining a presence in Stormont House throughout Wednesday and Thursday," she said.

"There has been a positive approach by all in trying to find an agreed way forward on some difficult issues, and I very much hope that this will continue.

"It is also encouraging that in addition to government meetings, the parties have taken advantage of their shared location to have a large number of bilateral contacts.

"This is to be welcomed. It is important to maintain this approach next week, and I would encourage the parties to continue to meet on a regular basis over the coming days."

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