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We owe it to Lyra's mum to ensure no other ceasefire babies are killed: Coveney

Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

The DUP and Sinn Fein have both pledged to engage constructively in a fresh round of talks to restore powersharing.

The latest attempt to end the Stormont deadlock will begin in 10 days.

Today Tanaiste Simon Coveney tells Northern Ireland's politicians they owe it to the mother of Lyra McKee "to make sure that no other ceasefire babies are murdered".

Writing in the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Coveney also reveals details of an emotional meeting between senior political figures and a devastated Joan McKee.

The new talks initiative to begin on May 7 was announced yesterday by Secretary of State Karen Bradley and Mr Coveney at Stormont.

They said Northern Ireland politicians must listen to the public and take inspiration from Lyra, whose "tragic death cannot be in vain".

The day after the talks begin, the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference will meet in London.

While a review of the negotiations will take place three weeks later, the two governments said that setting a deadline for a deal would be unhelpful. They have also declined to appoint an independent mediator to chair the talks.

Mrs Bradley said that, since the 29-year-old journalist's death in Londonderry last Thursday night, Northern Ireland had "united in condemnation at this murderous act".

She said: "Northern Ireland needs its political leaders to stand together and work with each other in the spirit of unity and togetherness now more than ever."

Mr Coveney said he believes "there is an appetite to try" and the two governments are determined to assist that process to get it across the line.

And writing in today's Telegraph, the Irish foreign minister talks about the responsibility that rests on politicians.

He states: "We owe it to Joan and Lyra McKee to make sure no other cease­fire babies are murdered in the prime of their lives and to make sure that Northern Ireland has a functioning government.

"There is never a perfect time to do the right thing in Northern Ireland. However, there is a right time and that time is now."

Mr Coveney refers to a conversation with Joan McKee which, he says, will be foremost in his mind.

He adds: "Standing in the side chapel of St Anne's was the President of Ireland, the Taoiseach, The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom as well as myself as Tanaiste, the Secretary of State and Ministers of both governments.

"Despite all the power of those elected offices we were standing there as a group that was utterly powerless to comfort a woman who had, as Joan put it, 'lost her baby'."

While some observers believed the timing of the talks was wrong because of the EU election on May 23, Mr Coveney said it would always be the wrong time in Northern Ireland with the marching season or party conferences cited as reasons to postpone dialogue.

Reacting last night, Arlene Foster said the DUP stood ready for a return to devolution without preconditions.

"The DUP will not be found wanting in any talks process but our preference would be for the Assembly to be restored and have the talks process in parallel," she said.

"There is incredible frustration in Northern Ireland at the lack of an Assembly. Key reforms for our hospitals and schools are gathering dust on the shelves. My message on the doorsteps has been that we stand ready to form the assembly and executive immediately.

"Whilst we have delivered additional money for Northern Ireland through our relationship with the Government in London, we could do so much more with a functioning Assembly."

She said talks must be focused on "delivering a fair and balanced deal that both unionists and nationalists" could support.

"Anyone who thinks agreement can be reached through a one-sided wish-list being implemented is not rooted in reality," she added.

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald said she was optimistic about breaking the political deadlock.

"We're all very familiar with the rights issues which caused lack of confidence in powersharing and those issues that have kept the institutions down, I hope everyone avails of this opportunity to finally resolve those issues," she said.

"On Monday, I will meet with our negotiating team, and we're good to go, we're ready, we want this to work."

"We want outstanding issue resolved, we want people in the North irrespective of their colour, class, creed or their view of the constitutional question, we want every single person to enjoy equality and vindication of their rights, and this, for us, is the big opportunity now to make that happen."

If agreement wasn't possible at the talks, London and Dublin must intervene and address the issues, the Sinn Fein president said.

"Either way, let's embrace this opportunity now to get things right, to advance the Good Friday Agreement as our bottom line, as our common bottom line," she added.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood welcomed the talks initiative but said: "We have concerns that this process with no fixed deadline will simply sink back to the retrenchment of previous talks.

"We have already seen the DUP and Sinn Fein slip back into comfortable red lines that look great on placards but deliver nothing for people desperately in need.

"Both of those parties need to think again about their approach that's more about seeking a pound of flesh than reaching agreement."

UUP leader Robin Swann said there must be "genuine engagement" from the DUP and Sinn Fein.

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