Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland parties preparing ahead of fresh round of Stormont talks

Northern Ireland's political parties are preparing to get back around the negotiating table on Wednesday for the beginning of the next phase of talks aimed at restoring power-sharing at Stormont.

It comes as Secretary of State Karen Bradley announced a fresh round of talks saying it was the last chance to reach a deal.

Mrs Bradley said Parliament would receive an update on progress by February 7.

Speaking on the eve of the talks beginning, Sinn Fein's Stormont leader, Michelle O'Neill has said her party is ready to engage in the process.

Ms O'Neill said: "The Sinn Fein assembly team gathered today (Tuesday) to prepare to enter into a short sharp phase of negotiation.

"Issues like marriage rights, language rights, the Bill of Rights and legacy inquests should not be politically contentious.

"They should be issues that we are able to resolve here as part of the current discussions."

She continued: "The public want these institutions to work but they will only work if people have the confidence in them.

"The way to achieve that is to work for genuine power sharing and political institutions operating on the principles of mutual respect and equality."

The UUP's Steve Aiken said the political drift cannot continue and that parties need to be willing to move on.

Mr Aiken said: "Northern Ireland has been without an Executive for a year.

"The issues on the table aren't new and we have heard parties' positions on them, many times over.

"We will be entering these talks wanting to see the Executive and Assembly restored and the Ulster Unionist Party will engage positively on that front. We want to see a successful resolution."

He added: "We quickly need to either see compromise or for parties to admit they aren't willing to move.

"It has often been said that a deal could be done within days. This needs to be the case."

Alliance leader Naomi Long said there needs to be a "concerted effort" from all parties if there is to be success.

Mrs Long said: "Alliance has long called for an independent mediator to inject fresh energy into the talks and ensure parties are giving their full endeavours to try and reach a deal.

"That call should be heeded by the Secretary of State if she wishes to have a successful outcome."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said he would be using his meetings to end the "cloak of secrecy."

The Foyle MLA said: "The SDLP will always play a constructive role in working to restore power-sharing. We know the reality of our politics, we will always have to work together to progress the lives of citizens here.

"We also know the reality that if there is no government here, there is no power and therefore there can be no change.

"However, we are not prepared to have the public shut out as another round of talks begins without any information on the progress that has been made. People deserve to know why they have been denied a government for over a year."

Mr Eastwood added: "Other parties cannot be asked to negotiate blind while the DUP and Sinn Féin refuse to put their cards on the table. In our meetings with the Irish and British Governments this week the SDLP will be making in crystal clear, we aren't here to window dress.

"Both Government's have a responsibility here and that's not to the DUP and Sinn Féin but it's to our people - they need to end the cloak of secrecy so we can all get on with the job of delivering a government here so then we can have change, real equality and progress.”

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