New talks planned in bid to restore devolved gov’t in Northern Ireland – Xinhua

LONDON, Jan. 18 (Xinhua) — A new round of talks aimed at restoring Northern Ireland’s devolved government was announced Thursday by newly appointed Northern Ireland secretary Karen Bradley and the Irish Government’s Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney.

The talks will start next Wednesday and will involve the five main political parties in Northern Ireland.

The assembly collapsed almost a year ago following a fall-out between the two main parties, the Deomocratic Unionist Party (DUP) and the pro-republican party Sinn Fein.

For months, the region has been run by civil servants, with the ever present threat of direct rule being imposed from Westminster.

Bradley, who took over at Stormont Castle in Belfast after James Brokenshire resigned because of a health problem, said Thursday: “Since my appointment as Secretary of State, I have had a number of discussions on the way forward to restore the Northern Ireland executive and other political institutions under the Belfast Agreement. What has quickly become clear to me is that time is short and one last opportunity to reach agreement remains.”

Bradley said without agreement, Northern Ireland will be facing a set of political consequences that will represent a significant setback to the progress made since the signing of the Belfast Agreement in 1998.

She added: “Over the past eight months, the political parties, particularly the DUP and Sinn Fein, have made progress in closing the gaps existing between them on a range of difficult issues that have prevented the formation of an executive.”

She said the gaps are narrow, but there are still significant differences to overcome, adding that all of the parties have expressed their commitment to the restoration of the executive.

Bradley plans to update the House of Commons on progress no later than Feb. 7.