Stormont: Political parties set for fresh round of talks – BBC News

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Image caption The new talks have been described as “an intensive process to drive progress”

A new round of talks between Northern Ireland’s parties will begin on Monday in an effort to strike a deal for the restoration of devolved government.

The parties missed last week’s deadline for forming a power-sharing executive.

The UK and Irish governments have said they want the talks at Stormont Castle to have an agreed agenda and regular roundtable meetings.

The two governments have described it as “an intensive process to drive progress”.

Secretary of State James Brokenshire has said he still believes there is a short window of opportunity to find agreement.

He has also said there is no appetite for another snap election.

Mr Brokenshire told MPs in Westminster that he does not want to see a return of direct rule from London, but that he has to keep all options open.

He added that he would legislate on Northern Ireland’s future when Westminster returns after the Easter recess.

Image caption James Brokenshire has said he believes there is still a window of opportunity to strike a deal

Northern Ireland’s two biggest parties, the DUP and Sinn Fin, had blamed each other for the failure of initial talks.

Sinn Fin was “not in agreement-finding mode” during talks to save Northern Ireland’s political institutions, Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Arlene Foster said, while Sinn Fin’s Michelle O’Neill said the DUP did not have “the right attitude”.

Northern Ireland’s other parties have underlined the importance of the new talks process.

SDLP MLA Colin McGrath said that the talks were crucial so that all the parties could “understand exactly what page everybody’s on”.

The UUP’s Doug Beattie said the parties need to be given breathing room so they can come to agreement.

“What we need to create is the time and the space so political parties can manoeuvre, so they can actually change their positions, because right at this moment in time the trenches are being dug even deeper.”

Analysis: Mark Devenport, BBC News NI political editor

The last failed round of talks drew criticism from many participants who described them as shambolic.

Unlike last time, the parties do not face a precise deadline.

But the secretary of state has said that whether the talks make progress or not, he will need to bring legislation to Westminster after parliament returns from its Easter break later in April.

Stephen Farry, of the Alliance Party, warned that agreement was crucial so that devolved government could deal with the impact of Brexit.

“We have to have an executive in place and an executive with a proper Brexit plan if we’re going to make any headway,” he said. “There’s a massive amount of work to be done.”

Last week, Mr Brokenshire also said he believed talks were too advanced to introduce an individual not already involved to chair the discussions as an independent mediator.

It is understood that Sinn Fin has proposed an individual to chair the new talks process.

A number of politicians strongly criticised the handling of previous negotiations, which ended without success last weekend.

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