Belfast Telegraph

Deal to restore Stormont was 'very, very close' last autumn: Karen Bradley

New Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley has said a deal to restore the power-sharing executive was "very, very close" last autumn.

Mrs Bradley was speaking ahead of a fresh round of talks to restore Stormont, set to begin on Wednesday.

All of Northern Ireland's major parties brought to the table in an attempt to reach a deal.

Speaking on BBC Northern Ireland's Good Morning Ulster programme, Mrs Bradley said: "I think the important thing to start with is that you’re right to say that there has been progress made, and that my predecessor James Brokenshire worked with the parties to get very, very close to an agreement in the autumn.

"So I think we’re not starting from nothing. We are starting from a good position. In terms of how the talks progress I am sure you will understand it wouldn’t be right for me to have a running commentary."

Host Karen Patterson raised the date of the Secretary of State's next oral questions before the House of Commons, which falls on February 7, and asked if this could be considered a deadline for the talks.

"They will be expecting me at that point to provide some sort of update. I hope at that point it will be a very positive update where I can talk about the need for bringing forward legislation for a new devolved government," said Mrs Bradley, adding it would be a "milestone" rather than a deadline.

On the possibility of bringing in an impartial chairperson to mediate the talks, due to the possible conflict of interest created by the confidence-and-supply agreement between the the Conservative Government and the DUP.

Mrs Bradley said she was "not ruling anything out", but stated the confidence-and-supply agreement was separate to negotiations to restore Stormont.

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