Belfast Telegraph

Johnson set for talks over renewed focus on Northern Ireland powersharing

The prime minister will hold bilateral meetings with the five main parties at Stormont.

Boris Johnson meets with DUP leader Arlene Foster (Niall Carson/PA)
Boris Johnson meets with DUP leader Arlene Foster (Niall Carson/PA)

Boris Johnson is to hold talks with Northern Ireland’s political leaders as he bids to inject fresh impetus to faltering efforts to restore powersharing.

The prime minister will hold bilateral meetings with the five main parties at Stormont on Wednesday morning.

Northern Ireland has been without a devolved government for two-and-a-half years, with hamstrung civil servants running under pressure public services amid a reluctance by the Government to re-introduce direct rule.

Stormont’s two main parties – the DUP and Sinn Fein – remain at loggerheads over a series of long-standing disputes, with a series of talks initiatives aimed at securing a resolution having ended in failure.

Northern Ireland's citizens need and deserve the executive to get up and running again as soon as possible Boris Johnson

Mr Johnson’s visit to Stormont comes amid deadlock in the latest talks process.

Families of people killed by the security forces during the Troubles are planning to protest on the Stormont estate while the prime minister is holding his meetings.

Ahead of the visit, Mr Johnson said the region had been without proper governance “for much, much too long”.

He said he would do everything in his power to help the parties reach agreement.

“The people of Northern Ireland have now been without an executive and assembly for two years and six months – put simply this is much, much too long,” he said.

“Northern Ireland’s citizens need and deserve the executive to get up and running again as soon as possible, so that locally accountable politicians can take decisions on the issues that really matter to local people.

“I’m pleased to meet each of Northern Ireland’s party leaders today to stress that I am going to do everything in my power to make the ongoing talks to restore devolution a success.”

Mr Johnson arrived in Northern Ireland on Tuesday evening when he dined with senior members of the DUP to discuss the renewal of his Government’s confidence and supply deal with the unionist party at Westminster.

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The DUP’s Arlene Foster and Nigel Dodds had dinner with Mr Johnson (Niall Carson/PA)

DUP leader Arlene Foster, deputy leader Nigel Dodds and party whip Sir Jeffrey Donaldson attended Tuesday’s dinner with the Prime Minister.

The DUP’s 10 MPs have propped up the minority Government since the 2017 general election – an arrangement that delivered a £1 billion boost in public spending in Northern Ireland.

New Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith did not attend.

It is understood his absence was designed to underline that the engagement was about the confidence and supply deal, not the powersharing dispute.

The focus will shift to the Stormont logjam on Wednesday morning.

The last DUP/Sinn Fein-led powersharing coalition imploded in January 2017 when the late Martin McGuinness quit as Sinn Fein deputy first minister amid a row about a botched green energy scheme.

The fallout over the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) was soon overtaken by disputes over the Irish language, same-sex marriage and the toxic legacy of the Troubles.

Mr Johnson’s visit is his first to Northern Ireland as Prime Minister.

It comes following visits to Scotland, Wales and cities across England earlier this week.

He previously announced that the Mid South West Growth Deal in Northern Ireland will receive a share of £300 million new funding, to help boost business and enhance opportunities for people in the region.

PA

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