Belfast Telegraph

Talks to restore powersharing government resume

Talks aimed at restoring Northern Ireland's powersharing government have resumed.

Stormont parties missed last week's deadline for forming an executive after negotiations broke down and Sinn Fein said it would not nominate a deputy first minister.

UK Political leaders were subsequently invited by Secretary of State James Brokenshire to participate in a fresh round of talks in a bid to break the deadlock.

Officials met this morning in Stormont Castle, Belfast, to discuss how the agenda will shape up in the coming fortnight. Party leaders then held talks.

The UK and Irish governments have said they want regular round table meetings - something that was absent in the last process.

The two governments have described it as "an intensive process to drive progress".

Two of the main stumbling blocks to a successful outcome are the divisive issues of Irish language and how to deal with the toxic legacy of the Troubles.

Devolution imploded in January over a row about a botched green energy scheme. The subsequent snap Assembly election campaign laid bare a series of other disputes between the main two parties - the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein.

The parties missed the three-week post-election deadline to form a new coalition administration last Monday.

While the government is statutorily obliged to call another snap election if such a deadline is missed, Mr Brokenshire has said he believes there is no public appetite to go back to the polls.

He has said if an agreement is reached he will move to amend legislation to allow an executive to be formed without the need for an election.

If no deal materialises he has made clear the Government will countenance the reintroduction of direct rule from London - a step that would also require emergency legislation to be passed.

Mr Brokenshire has signalled April 18 as an effective deadline for progress to be made.

The lack of ruling executive, and agreed budget, at the start of the financial year has forced a senior civil servant to take control of Stormont's finances.

David Sterling, the permanent secretary at the Department of Finance, is using emergency powers to release cash and resources to departments to keep public services operating amid the crisis.

Last month's election was triggered after the late Martin McGuinness quit as Sinn Fein deputy first minister in protest against the DUP's handling of the error-ridden Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme.

The March 2 poll returned an Assembly shorn of an overall unionist majority for the first time ever, with the DUP's lead over Sinn Fein cut from 10 seats to just one.

On top of legacy and language, another logjam preventing the formation of a new government is Sinn Fein's insistence that it will not accept DUP leader Arlene Foster as first minister until the conclusion of a public inquiry into the RHI scandal.

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