Belfast Telegraph

Powersharing proposals outlined by UK and Irish governments

The plans have been put forward amid a strike by nurses in Northern Ireland.

The last Stormont Assembly collapsed in 2017 (Liam McBurney/PA)
The last Stormont Assembly collapsed in 2017 (Liam McBurney/PA)

By David Young and Michael McHugh, PA

The UK and Irish governments have outlined their proposals to restore powersharing in Northern Ireland to Stormont’s two main parties.

The DUP and Sinn Fein were briefed on the governments’ suggested blueprint for breaking the three-year deadlock on Wednesday afternoon.

The significant step in the talks process did not lead to an immediate breakthrough, instead prompting a series of further meetings at Stormont House that were expected to extend long into the night.

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Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Julian Smith has been working with Irish Foreign Affairs minister Simon Coveney on the proposals (Liam McBurney/PA)

Sources from both governments described the process as “intensive” and “very slow”.

As of Wednesday evening, it was understood the three smaller parties involved in the talks initiative – the SDLP, Ulster Unionist Party and Alliance Party – were still awaiting full briefings about what the deal contains.

By that stage, delegations from those parties had left Stormont with no expectation of a return until Thursday morning.

In perhaps an indication of the sensitive juncture the talks have reached, neither the governments or any of the parties made public statements on the process through the day on Wednesday.

Another mandatory coalition executive can only be formed with the buy-in of the DUP and Sinn Fein, as the region’s two largest parties.

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The latest developments at Stormont took place amid a strike by nurses in Northern Ireland (Liam McBurney/PA)

The document represents the governments’ joint assessment of what a compromise deal to resolve outstanding disputes over the Irish language and Assembly voting practices might look like.

They are urging the parties to sign-up to the agreement ahead of Monday’s talks deadline.

On that day, legislation to give civil servants extra powers to run the region’s troubled public services expires and the UK government assumes a legal duty to call a fresh Assembly election.

The latest developments at Stormont took place amid a strike by nurses in Northern Ireland’s health service.

Earlier in the day, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Julian Smith and Irish Foreign Affairs minister Simon Coveney convened two roundtable meetings of all five parties.

If I was to stop working for three years I would not be getting paid, I think politicians here really have to step up to the mark, speak up for us and support us because we do not know what else to do Anne Waterman, striking staff nurse

The events at Stormont came as Prime Minister Boris Johnson, addressing the Commons, urged the region’s politicians to “take responsibility” and get the institutions up and running again.

Ongoing industrial action by health workers has heaped pressure on the political leaders to get back into a devolved Assembly.

Thousands of nurses are on picket lines at hospitals across the region amid a dispute over pay and staffing shortages.

Anne Waterman, 60, a staff nurse striking outside the Ulster Hospital, less than a mile from the gates of Stormont, delivered a stark message to politicians.

“If I was to stop working for three years I would not be getting paid, I think politicians here really have to step up to the mark, speak up for us and support us because we do not know what else to do,” she said.

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The parties are being urged to sign-up to the agreement ahead of Monday’s talks deadline (Niall Carson/PA)

The last DUP/Sinn Fein-led coalition government collapsed in January 2017 over a row about a botched green energy scheme.

That dispute subsequently widened to take in more traditional wrangles on matters such as the Irish language and the thorny legacy of the Troubles.

Proposed legislative protections for Irish language speakers and reform of a contentious Stormont voting mechanism – called the petition of concern – have been crucial sticking points in the most recent talks process, which got under way following the UK general election.

Sinn Fein has previously demanded a stand-alone Irish Language Act as a prerequisite of any deal to restore devolution.

The DUP has expressed a willingness to legislate to protect the language, but only as part of broader culture laws which also include the Ulster Scots tradition.

The long-running dispute has boiled down to whether new laws are contained in a standalone bill or as part of a wider piece of legislation.

PA

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