NI parties signal talks to get Stormont back up and running

Political figures say they want to get back around the table in the wake of the election

DUP leader Arlene Foster said she will ‘attend the talks on Monday’ with other parties expected to gather such as Sinn Féin.
Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

Political leaders in Northern Ireland have signalled that they want to revive the Stormont assembly and executive in the wake of the general election and talks to break the deadlock of nearly three years look likely to begin on Monday.

Northern Ireland secretary of state Julian Smith said he spoke with the heads of all the unionist and nationalist parties, including Sinn Féin and the DUP, on Sunday morning and later tweeted: “Good calls with all five party leaders this morning. Look forward to starting positive process tomorrow to get Stormont back up and running.”

Stormont has been in cold storage for more than 1,000 days due to a stand-off between Sinn Féin and the DUP on issues such as Irish language legislation and a ban on same-sex marriage.

Public opinion over the stalemate has had a detrimental effect on the two major parties and this has been reflected in recent elections.

The DUP suffered a considerable blow after party deputy leader Nigel Dodds lost his seat in North Belfast to Sinn Féin John Finucane.

Likewise, Sinn Féin lost its seat in Foyle to the SDLP by a huge majority, in what is being seen as a resurgence in support for Colum Eastwood’s party.

They also took a seat from the DUP in South Belfast.

It is understood both the DUP and Sinn Fein are keen to be seen to getting back around the table to restore confidence with the electorate before any further elections.

Sinn Féin TD Martin Kenny appeared on RTE’s The Week in Politics on Sunday, saying his party “absolutely wants to be back in Stormont” in January.

“We don’t have any red lines, all we have called for is that all parties need to agree to implement the agreements that have already been reached,” he said.

Smith previously stated that unless agreement is reached by 13 January, fresh assembly elections will be triggered.

DUP leader Arlene Foster issued a statement on Sunday which said: “We will be attending the talks on Monday. People want decisions made about welfare, hospitals and schools. That was the clear message of the election. Northern Ireland has been deprived of local ministerial-led government for three years.

“Central to the talks must be the sustainability of the institutions so never again can one party hold the rest of Northern Ireland to ransom. Sinn Féin has barred everyone from Government for three years despite other parties willing to take their seats.

“We live in a divided society and to move forward will require all the parties to step up to the plate. For my part, we will not be found wanting. Northern Ireland can only move forward when we are prepared to work together.”

Eastwood also released a statement calling for a restoration of Stormont.

He said: “We are entering last-chance talks this week. The SDLP has made bold proposals that are uncomfortable for us but are in the interests of restoring government to meet the needs of patients, pupils and healthcare workers.

“We will continue to stretch ourselves but it is for the DUP and Sinn Féin to set aside their dispute and act, at last, in the interests of the people we all represent.”