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Theresa Villiers sets up fresh round of talks - DUP and Sinn Fein say they'll be at the table

By Nevin Farrell

The DUP and Sinn Fein have pledged to take part in fresh talks to attempt to break the political deadlock.

Speaking at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said a new round of cross-party negotiations were to be convened.

They will focus on the outstanding issues, including disagreements on how to deal with flags, parades and the past, which she said were consuming ever increasing amounts of time and resources.

The talks move was predicted by the Belfast Telegraph last week.

Ms Villiers said the precise format and agenda of the negotiations would be decided after engaging with the political parties and the Irish government in the coming days.

The talks are expected to end in December.

Ms Villiers also appealed for unionists to get "back round the table" to try to resolve the impasse.

"I fully appreciate how very difficult these issues are, the roots of some of them date back centuries, but there are huge benefits for Northern Ireland if a way can be found to make progress on them," she said.

"Ultimately, the answers to these divisive questions have to come from Northern Ireland's political leadership.

"But the UK Government can and does have a role in persuading, facilitating and doing all we can to see real change delivered to secure a genuinely shared future for Northern Ireland. So my realistic assessment is that the time is now right for a new round of cross-party talks to be convened to seek a way forward on the outstanding issues so that working together we can do all we can to lift the blockages which are now preventing the devolved executive from delivering the efficient and effective government that the people of Northern Ireland want, and which they deserve."

Ms Villiers said the precise format and agenda of the negotiations would be decided after engaging with the political parties and the Irish government in the coming days.

She added: "And with matters under discussion which relate to the operation of 1998 Belfast Agreement, it is right that there's a place at the table for the Irish Government as well on the matters that concern them."

DUP leader Peter Robinson said his party would take part in the talks.

"It would be very silly if we weren't there because I was the one who encouraged her and indeed encouraged the other parties to join in those talks," he said.

"I think it is important – every party will have issues they want to raise and in the first instance undoubtedly those will be of a bilateral nature and hopefully when there's a measure of agreement we can have more intensive discussions."

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said his party stood ready to enter negotiations on political progress concerning the issues of flags, parades and the past.

"We will enter them to resolve issues and will, as always, abide by any agreements made," he said.

"Others must commit to do the same and the talks should be convened as a matter of urgency by the two governments and supported by the American administration."

Alliance Leader David Ford said his party would take part but the talks would only succeed if all parties went to the table determined to secure lasting solutions.

He said: "I welcome this announcement, but it must go alongside a caution that any talks process will only succeed if all parties are prepared for the difficult conversations and determined to find real solutions on all issues, including flags, parades and the past."

Traditional Unionist Voice chief Jim Allister said there can be no place at the table for the Irish Government in talks about the internal affairs of Northern Ireland.

He said unionists who boycotted inter-party talks as part of the 'graduated response' of protest over the Ardoyne Orange parade crisis would be embarking on a "graduated retreat if they meekly re-engage while nothing has changed for the Orangemen of North Belfast".

Speaking from New York, Dublin's Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan said the time was right for a new round of negotiations and pledged his government's support.

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