Theresa May heading to Belfast amid powersharing deal speculation
The UK Prime Minister will meet Stormont’s main political parties as they continue talks aimed at ending the 13-month political stalemate.
Theresa May is due to fly into Northern Ireland today amid growing speculation that a deal to restore the powersharing government is imminent.
The UK Prime Minister will meet with Stormont’s main political parties as they continue talks aimed at ending the 13-month political stalemate.
A Downing Street official said Mrs May will take part in a series of meetings at Stormont House and encourage the parties to resolve their differences.
The official added that the PM will make clear that the UK Government remains fully committed to the restoration of powersharing, devolution and the Belfast Agreement.
She is expected to tell the parties that she believes progress has been made in recent days and reiterate that the UK and Irish governments – as part of the three-strand approach set out in the Belfast Agreement – will continue to work with them to see an agreement reached.
According to Downing Street, Mrs May will restate her strong belief that a fully functioning Executive, empowered to take decisions over local matters, is the best way to serve the interests of the whole community.
She will also tell them that the UK Government is ready to introduce legislation to enable the re-establishment of an Executive as soon as possible following an agreement.
While she is in the region, the Prime Minister will also meet staff and management at a major employer to discuss the Government’s commitment to back business success and opportunity in Northern Ireland.
The region has been without a functioning government since January 2017 and several rounds of talks to resolve the crisis have failed. However, speculation has been growing that a deal between Sinn Fein and the DUP is close.
On Saturday, Sinn Fein’s Northern Ireland leader Michelle O’Neill said talks are likely to draw to a close this week.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood warned that any deal to restore powersharing must end the cycle of political stand-off between Sinn Fein and the DUP.
Mr Eastwood said it is not enough to simply form a new executive.
“The real change necessary is an end to the cycle of two parties who have proved themselves very good at the art of political stand-off, but very bad at the responsibility of government.
“That is the joint DUP/Sinn Fein status quo that must now end.”
Mr Eastwood added that when powersharing is restored, focus must return immediately to the threat posed by Brexit, the economy and the crises in the health service and school budgets.
The DUP/Sinn Fein-led coalition imploded last January amid a row over a botched green energy scheme.
That rift subsequently widened to take in long-running disputes over culture, social issues and legacy.
The main sticking point preventing the restoration of an Executive is the Irish language.
Sinn Fein wants a stand-alone piece of legislation to protect speakers – an Irish Language Act – but the DUP has long insisted it would only countenance new laws if they also incorporate other cultures, such as Ulster Scots.