Belfast Telegraph

Simon Coveney urges 'new beginning' as Stormont talks set to resume

Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney
Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney
DUP leader Arlene Foster
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has called for a "new beginning" as talks to restore power-sharing resume today at Stormont.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said her party aimed to secure a "fair and balanced" deal.

The parties have just 11 days to reach a compromise. Secretary of State Julian Smith has warned that he will call a fresh Assembly election if an agreement hasn't been brokered by then.

Mr Smith will hold bilateral meetings with the parties before a round-table discussion at Stormont House.

Mr Coveney yesterday urged Northern Ireland politicians to show leadership and generosity in the negotiations.

He said the new year offered a chance for a fresh beginning and he urged all sides not to disappoint the public again. The dialogue had been paused for the Christmas holidays.

The Tanaiste held pre-talks with Mr Smith yesterday.

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On the road to Belfast, Mr Coveney tweeted: "2020 can be a new beginning for politics in NI with leadership & generosity from all sides - we've got less than 2 weeks - let's not disappoint again! NEW YEAR, NEW BEGINNING!"

TUV leader Jim Allister tweeted in response: "Interloper on the move. Beware."

Mr Coveney stressed Dublin's commitment to restoring devolution in a New Year's Day video posted by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar outlining his government's priorities for 2020.

"We are determined to work with all of the parties in Northern Ireland to get the devolved government back up and running again, to get the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement functioning again, to bring communities together and to ensure that Northern Ireland can make decisions for itself," he said.

Mrs Foster said that the DUP was approaching the talks constructively.

"We are focused on restoring devolution in a way that is fair and balanced," she said.

"There needs to be an end to the politics of ransom. Collapsing the institutions and then refusing to restore them until a list of narrow demands are met is not the way to move forward. We must use this talks process to ensure that when devolution is restored, it is sustainable and the incentive to collapse is removed.

"The last three years have been wasted opportunities to be fixing our schools and hospitals."

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald said: "The choice is now for agreement or elections, but the current situation cannot continue.

"It is in the interests of all our people that we establish good government and real power-sharing based on equality and respect.

"The outstanding issues can be resolved. The test now for every party that has talked up getting back to work is to go back to the Executive table and deliver."

Ms McDonald added: "The first act of a new Executive must be to restore pay parity for health workers, and a new Executive will require a significant cash injection from London to begin the work of repairing a decade of Tory austerity."

Alliance leader Naomi Long said last month's Westminster election results were a message to politicians to restore devolution. "We must have a functioning Assembly so we can deliver for everyone in Northern Ireland," she said.

"So we can resolve the crisis in the health service, ensure our schools remain at a high standard, fix our crumbling infrastructure, protect people from the welfare mitigation cliff edge and stop the worst effects of an impending Brexit."

Mrs Long added: "It is up to each of us as political leaders to prioritise reform and restoration of the Assembly.

"Those reforms, especially of the petition of concern, must ensure not only any restoration is permanent but the institutions are fit for purpose.

"This New Year must be the last with political paralysis and a dormant Stormont. The public are suffering from the absence of locally accountable political decision-making and it has to stop in the next 12 days - no ifs, no buts and no excuses."

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