Belfast Telegraph

Brokenshire warns clock ticking to restore Executive as he meets parties

By Noel McAdam

Attempts to restore the Executive will get under way today after the bombshell Assembly election, but there are fears the negotiations could become bogged down.

Theresa May and Enda Kenny have ordered government ministers to open urgent talks with parties in an attempt to restore devolution.

The Prime Minister and Taoiseach had a 15-minute phone conversation yesterday about the election outcome.

They will discuss Northern Ireland again at the EU council summit in Brussels on Thursday after Secretary of State James Brokenshire holds a series of bilateral meetings with the five main Stormont parties, starting this afternoon.

Irish Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan is expected to join the talks on Wednesday.

The first official meeting of the new 90-strong Assembly is likely to take place next Monday, when there will be an attempt to elect a Speaker.

From that point legislation arising from the St Andrews Agreement allows for a fortnight before there must be a meeting to try and form an Executive.

Sinn Fein insisted it would not nominate a Deputy First Minister if the DUP puts Arlene Foster forward as a candidate for First Minister.

But the DUP has said republicans cannot dictate the party's choice. As such, many expect the stalemate that led to the election to continue. Were that the case, Mr Brokenshire would have no choice but to call another poll.

However, according to the relevant legalisation, he only has to do so within a "reasonable period".

That could provide the flexibility needed for negotiations to continue on a range of issues, including Sinn Fein's demands that past agreements on an Irish Language Act and dealing with the legacy of the Troubles be implemented.

Mr Brokenshire yesterday said the discussions would remain confidential.

He made the announcement after ringing Mrs Foster, Sinn Fein Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, outgoing Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt and Alliance leader Naomi Long, along with a number of others.

"There is a limited window in which the Assembly and Executive can be restored," Mr Brokenshire said.

"Urgent discussions need to take place to ensure inclusive devolved government resumes."

But Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said the British Government had to recognise it was not an honest broker.

Pointing out that Conservative candidates in the Assembly election won fewer than 2,400 votes, Mr Adams added: "The British Government has given up all pretence of independence - they are not neutral arbitrators.

"They have refused to implement and honour their agreements and responsibilities. They are part of the problem.

"The Irish Government needs to hold London to its responsibilities and obligations. The Taoiseach knows this. So does Minister Flanagan.

"That needs to be their focus in the coming talks."

Mr Brokenshire said that alongside the establishment of an Executive, the talks would address other issues, including the legacy of the past.

"The responsibility for forming a new Executive rests with the two parties eligible to nominate a First Minister and Deputy First Minister both to engage with each other and to advance discussions with all eligible parties," he added.

"A new Executive will need to agree a Programme for Government, a budget for 2017-18 and any changes to how the Executive will work.

"The UK Government will engage with the parties to secure progress. Discussions will focus on securing implementation on the basis of existing commitments rather than the renegotiation of prior agreements. In particular, there is an urgent need to resolve the implementation of the commitments concerning the legacy of the past in the Stormont House Agreement."

Belfast Telegraph

Daily News Headlines Newsletter

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox.


From Belfast Telegraph