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NI Secretary of State James Brokenshire leaves 20-day window for agreement

By Adrian Rutherford

Northern Ireland’s politicians will have a three-week window to hammer out a deal to save Stormont.

It comes after formal talks to restore the powersharing institutions were put on hold until after the General Election.

The parties have been set a deadline of June 29 to form an Executive — leaving just 20 days after the snap poll on June 8.

Secretary of State James Brokenshire made the announcement after meeting the main parties and Irish Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan yesterday.

Mr Brokenshire said progress had been made, but there were still issues to be overcome.

“Over the past seven weeks all the main parties have been engaged in discussions and some progress has been made, including on the development of a Programme for Government and on legacy,” he said.

“There are, however, a number of outstanding issues.

“All the parties involved recognise it is vital devolved government, and all of the institutions established under the Belfast Agreement and its successors, resumes in Northern Ireland as soon as possible.

“Although formal round table talks are paused until after the General Election, a range of bilateral discussions will continue, with a view to building on progress.”

Sinn Fein’s Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill said the election had scuppered any chance of agreement on the way forward, adding that the pause was a realistic decision.

“It has been very clear over the last seven or eight weeks that the DUP and the British Government have not moved far enough to address the issues,” she said.

The DUP and Sinn Fein have been embroiled in a blame game over the failure to restore the institutions. Relations have broken down over a proposed Irish language Act and how to deal with the legacy of the Troubles.

Mrs O’Neill said Arlene Foster’s engagement with the Irish language community this week was a step in the right direction and hopefully paved the way for developing their approach to the Irish language.

“We want the Executive to work, we want good government, we want to be able to take the decisions that impact on people’s lives and we remain committed to doing that,” she added.

A DUP spokesman said they wanted the Executive restored immediately after the Assembly election.

“The DUP put forward no preconditions or red-lines to prevent the formation of an Executive,” he said.

“Unfortunately others have put their narrow party interests ahead of issues such as health, education and the economy which directly impact on the lives of people living here.

“It was inevitable that the General Election would have an impact on the talks. We will be ready to re-enter discussions after the election and again to seek the restoration of devolution.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the pause was “sensible”.

He said negotiators were “absolutely up against it”, and that there had been “lots of talking around the houses and plenty of shadow-boxing”.

However, Alliance leader Naomi Long warned that the consequences of the break could be grave. “While we can park the talks, we cannot park the juggernaut of cuts and chaos hitting our public finances and placing in jeopardy our health services, schools and education, voluntary and community sector, infrastructure investment and economic growth,” she said.

UUP leader Robin Swann said he was “both disappointed and frustrated” by the decision.

“But we have to be realistic about what progress could have been made during an election campaign.”

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