Belfast Telegraph

Progress made in Stormont talks: Simon Coveney

Tanaiste Simon Coveney
Tanaiste Simon Coveney
Lauren Harte

By Lauren Harte

Ireland's Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney says progress has already been made in the talks aimed at restoring power-sharing at Stormont.

Earlier this week the leaders of Northern Ireland's five main parties acknowledged mounting public impatience at a stalemate that has left the region without a functioning devolved government for more than two years.

They held a short round-table meeting at Stormont House on Tuesday afternoon for the first exchanges of a new talks process initiated by the UK and Irish Governments.

During that meeting, Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley and Tanaiste Simon Coveney outlined the format for the latest bid to resolve the impasse.

The process will involve agenda-setting and stock-taking meetings between the five leaders and two Governments at least once a week, with five working groups set up to focus on the detail of key disputes at the heart of the deadlock.

Mr Coveney said yesterday that both Governments will do some "heavy lifting" to ensure progress in the talks "within weeks, not months".

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Coveney said: "There's been more than some movement and when positive things happen, it's important to recognise them. We started a formal talks process and on Wednesday, we had what's called a British-Irish intergovernmental conference here in London.

"Yesterday and again today, we are seeing work streams, that all of the parties in Northern Ireland are part of."

Mr Coveney said the killing of journalist Lyra McKee last month showed "what happens in a vacuum where politics isn't working", and that needs to be corrected.

"There is an acceptance amongst all political parties in Northern Ireland - nationalist and unionists and neither - that they have an obligation to try and make this process work," he added. "The British and Irish Governments will work closely together to try and do some of the heavy lifting with the political parties that can change this within weeks, not months."

Northern Ireland has been without a functioning government for more than two years, when the then Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness resigned over the DUP's handling of the botched RHI scheme.

Since then, six previous talks initiatives to restore devolution have failed to find consensus on various sticking points, most notably the implementation of an Irish Language Act and legislation on same-sex marriage.

The tone of Tuesday's preliminary meeting was understood to be more harmonious than the last gathering of the party leaders in the winter.

Prime Minister Theresa May and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar have already pledged their determination to work together to ensure the latest process "comes to a successful conclusion".

The two leaders have said they will review progress on the fresh talks at the end of May.

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