Belfast Telegraph

Brokenshire pushes for talks to get Stormont back in business

By Suzanne Breen

Secretary of State James Brokenshire will engage with local political parties in coming weeks in an attempt to relaunch the talks process, the Northern Ireland Office said last night.

An NIO spokesman declined to outline a timetable but said Mr Brokenshire would be contacting the parties with his proposals for a new effort to restart negotiations to restore power-sharing.

The fresh push comes against a backdrop of deepening divisions between the two big parties, with the DUP claiming Sinn Fein was now setting preconditions for dialogue.

Yesterday Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams called for a referendum on a united Ireland within five years.

Unionist sources said the prospect for a deal "didn't look good" and questioned the republican party's commitment to saving Stormont.

The NIO spokesman said Mr Brokenshire remained committed to getting "devolution up and running". He added: "The Secretary of State will engage with the parties in the next week or two and outline his plans for another push in the talks."

DUP MP Gregory Campbell said if there was no progress this month, Mr Brokenshire must take steps to reintroduce direct rule.

"Departmental expenditure limits and priorities for the new financial year will have to be set either by devolved ministers or Westminster," he said.

"We cannot keep treading on water and hoping that something will eventually turn up. That's not sustainable beyond a few weeks more."

The East Londonderry MP claimed Sinn Fein's position regarding new talks had hardened.

"As well as setting preconditions for entering a new Executive, they now appear to be setting preconditions for talks about the formation of that Executive," he said. "Before, they had a relaxed attitude to talks and we were engaged a long time late last year. Now they seem to be intimating there's no point in new negotiations unless their agenda is met. That isn't the way to resolve the issues."

Mr Campbell said Sinn Fein voters in Northern Ireland would be unrepresented in Brussels, London or Stormont after Brexit in March 2019.

"Sinn Fein seems to be putting all their eggs in the Dail basket and it's all they'll have left through their own choices," he added.

Yesterday Mr Adams welcomed remarks by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in which he said he aspired to a united Ireland by consent and with cross-community support.

But the Sinn Fein leader also said "the Taoiseach should match his aspiration by devising and supporting strategies to promote the agreed reunification of Ireland".

Mr Adams said "the Irish Government, and particularly the Taoiseach, should become active persuaders for Irish unity".

The Louth TD continued: "Sinn Fein wants to see an Irish unity referendum in the next five years.

"We believe that such a referendum is achievable in that timeframe and we also believe that it is winnable."

"If the Taoiseach is serious about a united Ireland he should help to build and present convincing and cogent arguments in favour of it.

"He should engage with unionism on that basis.

"The potential for progress demands a new approach aimed at unlocking unionist opposition to a new future by reminding them of the positive contribution they have made to society on this island."

In her New Year statement, the party's northern leader Michelle O'Neill said she wanted to lead Sinn Fein back into a new Executive "because locally elected ministers are best placed to run local public services and fight back against the threats of Brexit and austerity".

But she said if this didn't happen, "there is an onus on the two governments to spell out how they intend to ensure the implementation of previous agreements".

Meanwhile, SDLP MLA Claire Hanna called for North-South "integration and co-operation" to be increased. "As we move forward now in 2018, we cannot shy away from the fact that we are facing into an unprecedented time of change. Brexit poses a significant challenge to this island, it is vital that all of us North and South rise to meet that challenge," she said.

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