Belfast Telegraph

Downing Street plans to end impasse in Northern Ireland - working groups on key sticking points

Party leaders will learn the talks format at a meeting at Stormont today which will be attended by Karen Bradley and Simon Coveney
Party leaders will learn the talks format at a meeting at Stormont today which will be attended by Karen Bradley and Simon Coveney
Karen Bradley
Simon Coveney
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

The Government is to unveil the details of a new talks process today which will involve setting up a series of working groups to address issues such as an Irish Language Act.

The format of the new discussions to end the political stalemate at Stormont will be disclosed to the party leaders in a meeting at lunchtime.

Writing in today's Belfast Telegraph, Arlene Foster pledged that her party would "engage wholeheartedly" in the fresh round of negotiations.

The DUP leader said that last week's council elections result made it clear that people "want their Northern Ireland government back and functioning again".

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald also vowed that her party would engage "energetically and positively" in the dialogue.

"Our negotiators are ready for talks. We are up for resolving the issues," she said.

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said voters from across the political spectrum had sent a clear message to their politicians to get back to work.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the parties must listen to what the electorate was saying.

Secretary of State Karen Bradley and Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney are expected to reveal the talks format during the meeting with party leaders at Stormont House.

Sources last night told the Belfast Telegraph that working groups will be set up to address cultural issues such as an Irish Language Act; the reform of Stormont's structures such as the petition of concern; and rights issues.

These groups are expected to start meeting tomorrow and will involve all of Northern Ireland's parties, not just the DUP and Sinn Fein.

Ministers from both governments will also meet in London tomorrow for a full session of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference.

On the eve of the talks process, the Government outlined details of a £100m-plus funding package for Londonderry.

Mrs Foster said: "Voters in Thursday's local government elections reinforced the case the DUP accepts and has been making: that the people want their Northern Ireland government back and functioning again.

"The DUP will not be the obstacle to the return of Stormont.

"While some seek to pose as the champions of rights, I will be standing up for the rights of people who want their health reforms, their education reforms and a local devolved government.

"The DUP recognises the issue of the Irish language will have to be dealt with but any package must be fair and balanced."

Also writing in today's Belfast Telegraph, Ms McDonald said her negotiators are ready for talks.

"We are up for resolving the issues. These issues are not complex, complicated or intractable. They can be resolved if the political will exists. Agreement can be found in which the rights of all are respected," she said.

"That is how we will create credible and sustainable institutions that are built on equality and respect.

"That is how we will deliver on the issues at the heart of the political impasse, including marriage equality, and rights for women, Irish speakers and victims."

Ms McDonald said the council election results showed that "a more progressive, inclusive and pluralist society" was emerging.

Mr Swann said: "We have a time limit to getting a deal done. The clear message from voters on the doors right across the political spectrum is that they want to see Stormont working again.

"The voters value democracy more than some of our politicians but these election results have maybe wakened them up."

Mr Eastwood said the politics of "division, deadlock and failure is finished".

"It's time for parties to come back together and for politicians to get back to work," he said.

"These talks must be short, focused and productive. We know the issues and we know the solutions. All parties must be prepared to compromise to restore government and deal with the crisis in our health service and in our schools."

The funding package for Derry is made up of £50m in funding for the Derry and Strabane City Deal and £55m of additional support through a new Inclusive Future Fund aimed at tackling deprivation and employment issues in the city.

It comes weeks after the New IRA shot dead journalist Lyra McKee in the city. Many believe dissident republicans are capitalising on the deprivation experienced by young people in parts of the city to bolster their ranks.

The Secretary of State said the Derry City and Strabane City Deal would boost innovation and the digital potential of the region and unlock local partner funding.

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