Northern Ireland

Stormont drinks reception cancelled after parties decline invitation

Karen Bradley Image copyright PA
Image caption Karen Bradley had invited MLAs to a reception at Stormont

The Northern Ireland Office has cancelled a drinks reception for MLAs at Stormont after political parties said they would not attend.

The invitation issued by Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley stated it was a chance for "informal" talks.

Sinn Féin was the first party to say it would not go, while the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) described Tuesday's planned event as "unhelpful".

The SDLP, Ulster Unionists and Alliance Party also said they would not attend.

On Monday, a government spokesperson said the event would not go ahead.

"The secretary of state respects that the parties have concluded they are not ready for this yet," said the spokesperson.

"The event will therefore not take place."

Analysis: Jayne McCormack, BBC News NI political reporter

If this had been any other low-key political event, planned for any other time, there probably wouldn't have been such scrutiny of it.

But given we're in the middle of a talks process, a reception hosted by Karen Bradley for the 90 MLAs was always going to put some noses out of joint.

The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) said the event was meant to reach out to MLAs not involved in the talks - and help rebuild relationships that have been fractured over the past two years.

But the political parties, for once, were united - in criticism, anyway, and dismissed the NIO's plan.

The cancellation of this event won't exactly buoy hopes for the Stormont talks in a week where already the DUP and Sinn Féin have publicly criticised each other's respective negotiating stances.

Mrs Bradley had "considered that it would be valuable to bring together MLAs" for an informal event alongside the political talks at Stormont, added the spokesperson.

"This was part of the drive to make the process more inclusive, beyond those who sit around the talks table and to help build relationships ahead of the restoration of the assembly."

Northern Ireland has been without a devolved government since January 2017, after a bitter row between the DUP and Sinn Féin led to the collapse of the institutions.

Several rounds of talks since then have failed.

The latest round of negotiations to restore Stormont began on 7 May and was announced after the murder of journalist Lyra McKee in Londonderrry in April.

However, there are several sticking points preventing the parties from reaching an agreement.

The UK and Irish governments have said there remains a small window of opportunity to restore devolution but the talks so far have not produced anything.

There has been speculation the talks could be paused over the summer but the Northern Ireland Office has said that is not true.