Belfast Telegraph

New bid to break talks deadlock

Fresh talks to break the deadlock in the Northern Ireland peace process are to be launched, the British and Irish governments have signalled.

Speaking at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, Northern Ireland secretary of state Theresa Villiers said a new round of cross party negotiations are 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.

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.

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

"Having spent a number of weeks consulting with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and Northern Ireland party leaders, I am strongly of the view that all party talks involving the two Governments are required to overcome the current political impasse within the Northern Ireland executive - including on the legacy issues of parades, flags and identity and dealing with the past," he said.

"I believe it is now time for these talks to take place."

Mr Flanagan said he will be in close contact with Ms Villiers and with the leaders of the Northern Ireland parties over the coming days.

"The Irish Government wishes to see the Institutions of the Good Friday Agreement not only function but flourish to the benefit of all," he added.

"The two Governments have an important role to play in talks to resolve the current impasse.

"We support a fully functioning partnership government in Northern Ireland and will work with the political parties to facilitate the resolution of current difficulties and legacy issues."

Mr Flanagan will tomorrow travel to Washington DC to meet with US Vice Presiden, Joe Biden and Secretary of Stat, John Kerry as well as other influential US political figures.

"I will be reiterating my message on the need for continued strong US support for the peace process in Northern Ireland," he said,.

"Throughout the peace process, the unwavering support of successive US administrations has been critically important, as it will be again in addressing the current challenges."

The latest attempt to overcome outstanding issues in Northern Ireland follow the failure last year of talks led by US diplomat Richard Haass to broker an agreement on flags, parades and the past.

Both the British and Irish governments have come under pressure in recent months about their commitment to a resolution.

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

"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.

"But I believe that there is now an opportunity for the UK Government to play a more direct role as a participant in a new round of talks to help Northern Ireland's political leadership grapple with these very difficult problems," she said.

"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."

Ivan Lewis, shadow secretary of State for Northern Ireland, said it was clear for a considerable time that both governments needed to get involved to help break the political stalemate.

"I hope that Northern Ireland's political leaders will now rise to the challenge and make the necessary compromises which are essential if progress is to be made," he added.

Separately, Stormont First and Deputy First Ministers Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness have announced discussions with their counterparts in Scotland and Wales about the future of the UK.

The talks, following the independence referendum in Scotland, will explore possible reforms in how the nations and regions are governed.

In a statement, Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness said: "The Scottish Referendum has provided a unique opportunity to examine the process of constitutional change and the impact on devolved institutions.

"Following discussions on Friday, we have agreed to meet with the First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond and the First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones to identify what issues need to be addressed and how best to do so.

"There is a need for a new conversation with all the devolved institutions around the table. Through collaboration we will be better placed to work in a manner which benefits all our people."

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

"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."

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