Northern Ireland

Stormont deadlock: UK and Irish governments aim for autumn talks

Leo Varadkar Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Leo Varadkar said the governments hope to convene talks in the autumn

The Irish prime minister (taoiseach) has said the British and Irish governments hope to hold talks with the Northern Ireland parties in the autumn aimed at restoring devolution.

Speaking to reporters in Dublin, Leo Varadkar tied the prospect for talks to clarity on Brexit.

Ministers from the governments met in London last week for a session of their intergovernmental conference.

The Stormont power-sharing executive collapsed 18 months ago.

"We would intend in the autumn some time trying again to get the parties in Northern Ireland together," Mr Varadkar said.

"I think the absence of any clarity around Brexit makes that very difficult but if we can have that in October, I think there is an opportunity certainly before the end of the year to get the assembly and executive up and running," he added.

Last week, the Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley said the government would "take the steps it needs to take" to ensure good governance in Northern Ireland.

On Tuesday, a spokesperson for the UK government said: "The secretary of state and UK government's top priority remains the restoration of devolved government in Northern Ireland.

"She [Karen Bradley] will continue to work with all the Northern Ireland parties - and with the Irish government within the three-stranded approach - to remove the barriers to restoring the executive and a fully functioning assembly."

Why is Northern Ireland without a government?

Northern Ireland has been without a government since January 2017, when the governing parties - the DUP and Sinn Féin - split in a bitter row.

Martin McGuinness, the then deputy first minister, resigned in protest of the handling of the botched Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme.

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption The Stormont institutions collapsed in January 2017

Since then, the two parties have remained far apart over crucial issues such as Sinn Féin's desire for legislation to give official status to the Irish language in Northern Ireland, rights for same-sex couples to marry and Troubles legacy issues.

Several rounds of talks to restore government at Stormont have, so far, failed while the UK government has resisted calls to institute direct rule from Westminster.

October is already a busy month politically, with a number of events planned.

These include a meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, DUP leader Arlene Foster giving evidence to the RHI inquiry, a Brexit summit in Brussels and the Irish presidential election.

Also on the agenda in the autumn is the Conservative Party conference, Ulster Unionist Party conference and a possible by-election in North Antrim.

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