Main parties meet for Stormont talks initiative

Naomi Long. Pic: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Naomi Long. Pic: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

Northern Ireland’s main political parties have met for talks for the first time since February.

Organised by Alliance leader Naomi Long, the discussions at Stormont were later described by Mrs Long as an “opportunity to create some space” following what she described as the “megaphone diplomacy” of recent months.

The talks included the DUP, Sinn Fein, UUP, SDLP and Alliance, as well as independent Claire Sugden, Steven Agnew of the Greens and People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll.

TUV leader Jim Allister said he did not take part as they were “not designed to address the core of the problem but to resurrect failed institutions”.

Mr Allister said: “The fundamental issue with the Stormont structures is that they cannot operate without Sinn Fein/IRA, a party which has no interest in Northern Ireland existing much less succeeding and prospering.”

However, Mrs Long said she was pleased at the response from the other parties, and described the discussions as “candid and constructive”.

Simon Hamilton is reported to have represented the DUP at the meeting with Alex Maskey and Steve Aiken there on behalf of Sinn Fein and the Ulster Unionists respectively.

The Stormont institutions collapsed in January 2017 and, despite several rounds of talks aimed at restoring the Northern Ireland Assembly, do not appear to be close to a resumption.

Since then the two parties – the DUP and Sinn Fein have been at loggerheads over a proposed Irish language act, extending same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland and many Troubles legacy issues.

The ongoing lack of an executive has led to calls for secretary of state Karen Bradley to re-introduce direct rule from Westminster.

Speaking to the BBC after yesterday’s talks ended, Mrs Long said: “We are not talking here about breakthroughs...but we are talking about serious engagement, and we are talking about people being willing at least now to talk in the same room”.