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Mid-January target for new Northern Ireland political talks

Negotiations could begin in few weeks, says DUP MP

By Eamon Sweeney

A date for a new round of talks to break the political deadlock at Stormont is expected to be announced in the next few days, a DUP MP has said.

Gregory Campbell suggested the negotiations could be up and running by mid-January - almost exactly a year after the late Martin McGuinness resigned as Deputy First Minister and brought down the Executive.

The East Londonderry MP told BBC Radio Foyle: "I think it will be the case that there will be more talks. Hopefully they will be more productive than they have been recently. Gaps have been narrowed."

When asked if a date for talks had been set, he replied: "No, but it will be in the next few days, and hopefully within the first week of the new year we will know exactly.

"The date will be arranged in the next few days and then I would have thought the talks will occur within the next 10 days." Sinn Fein MLA John O'Dowd said any talks must focus on the implementation of agreements and delivery of rights.

He said: "After the last phase of talks failed, Sinn Fein met with both the Taoiseach and British Prime Minister to make clear that it is now their responsibility to bring forward proposals for meaningful talks which have agreement as an objective and can reach a successful conclusion.

"Another round of talks for talks' sake have no political or public credibility. The focus must therefore be on the implementation of previous agreements and the delivery of a rights-based society rather than venue or process which will not resolve these fundamental difficulties."

On Christmas Eve it was reported that the possibility of moving potential talks away from Stormont was being examined.

Two venues, the Slieve Donard Hotel in Co Down and Rockliffe Hall, a five-star resort in Darlington in the north-east of England owned by Middlesbrough FC, were apparently under consideration.

However, SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon MLA said a change in attitude was needed from Sinn Fein and the DUP to deliver progress, "not a change in venue".

She added: "None of the issues causing the current political deadlock are insurmountable.

"If the political will exists, progress can be made.

"What is now needed is an independent chair, as Mr Brokenshire can no longer be viewed as an impartial broker given his government's cosy deal with the DUP.

"The way forward lies in inclusive talks with all parties putting their cards on the table.

"We need to see the 'progress' that the DUP and Sinn Fein have made - if any - over the past number of months. They must come clean with the public and publish the details on their private talks over the past year."

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