Government to announce fresh talks to restore NI powersharing

The Government is expected to announce fresh talks to restore a government in Northern Ireland later.

It has been more than a year since the Stormont Assembly collapsed.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney and the new Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley will hold a press conference around noon to announce that talks between Sinn Féin and the DUP will resume next week.

A number of rounds of talks aimed at restoring the Stormont Executive have failed to produce any agreement.

Government sources say they know there is not a lot of time, but they need to make the most of talks as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement.

They also said a lot of work had gone in to get people back around the table.

New Northern Secretary Karen Bradley faces an uphill battle to help restore the executive.

The DUP/Sinn Féin-led coalition imploded in a row over a botched green energy scheme but the rift between the two largest parties subsequently widened to take in more long-standing cultural and legacy disputes.

Proposals to protect Irish language speakers, the ban on same-sex marriage and a lack of consensus on how to deal with the legacy of the Troubles remain key areas of disagreement.

With the North having no local ministers to agree a budget for the next financial year, the British Government will face increased pressure to reintroduce a form of Westminster direct rule if the latest talks bid fails.

In her announcement at Stormont House, Mrs Bradley is expected to state: "What has quickly become clear to me is that time is short and one last opportunity to reach agreement remains.

"Over the past eight months the political parties, particularly the DUP and Sinn Féin, have made progress in closing the gaps existing between them on a range of difficult issues that have prevented the formation of an Executive.

"The gaps are narrow but there are still significant differences to overcome.

"Based on my conversations so far, I believe it is possible to reach agreement.

"A short, intense set of political talks to restore the Executive will therefore commence on Wednesday January 24.

"These will involve the five main parties, the UK Government and, as appropriate, the Irish Government in accordance with the well-established three-stranded approach.

"The people of Northern Ireland cannot continue to have their public services suffer by the lack of an Executive and without ministers making key policy and budget decisions."

Mrs Bradley is just over a week into the job. She replaced James Brokenshire after he resigned from the Government on health grounds.

A UK Government source insisted Mrs Bradley was not thinking about any outcome other than the restoration of devolution.

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