‘Hint of progress’ in Stormont talks, says NI minister

A Northern Ireland minister has said there is “a hint of progress” in talks to restore powersharing at Stormont.

Parliament Buildings, Stormont
Parliament Buildings, Stormont

The glimmer of hope to resolving the long-standing deadlock and resurrecting the institutions was offered by Lord Duncan of Springbank, responding to a debate on devolution at Westminster.

The Stormont administration has been collapsed for more than two years following a breakdown in relations between the DUP and Sinn Fein.

The latest bid to revive the powersharing government followed an impassioned plea from a priest conducting the funeral service for murdered journalist Lyra McKee.

Father Martin Magill urged politicians present at the funeral at St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast last month to work to restore Stormont.

Ms McKee was killed by the dissident republican group the New IRA during disturbances in Londonderry.

Referring to Northern Ireland, Lord Duncan told peers: “That’s the part where devolution isn’t working as it should.

“We see the consequence of a failure of devolution day after day.”

He added: “I will not comment too far upon the talks, which are ongoing, but there is a hint of progress.

“There is a belief now that we are perhaps on the track of reaching that elusive resolution to bring the assembly and the executive into being once again.”

Earlier in the House of Lords debate, Labour former Northern Ireland secretary Lord Hain lambasted the failure to tackle the “real crisis”, which he blamed on “a serious leadership vacuum”.

He said: “We have a palpable lack of leadership, not just among the political parties in Northern Ireland, particularly the DUP and Sinn Fein, but in No 10 on the part of the Prime Minister.

“She does not really grip Northern Ireland in the way that other prime ministers have done, including Tony Blair and John Major.

“She does not give it priority. It is no excuse to say that Brexit overwhelms her as it is overwhelming our whole government system.

“Northern Ireland must always be on the Prime Minister’s mind. This is unfinished business and it is a really dangerous moment.

“The two major political parties are demonstrating a reckless political irresponsibility. It is no good them blaming each other. Quite honestly, both are to blame.

“We need devolved government restored.”

The last DUP/Sinn Fein-led powersharing coalition imploded in January 2017 when the late Martin McGuinness quit as Sinn Fein deputy first minister amid a row about a botched green energy scheme.

The fallout over the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) was soon overtaken by disputes over the Irish language, the region’s ban on same-sex marriage and the toxic legacy of the Troubles.