Northern Ireland’s political leaders have vowed to strive for a deal to restore power-sharing as a fresh talks process began at Stormont.
The leaders of the five main parties acknowledged mounting public impatience and anger at a stalemate that has left the Province without a functioning devolved government for over two years.
They held a short round-table meeting at Stormont House yesterday afternoon for the first exchanges of a new talks process initiated by the UK and Irish governments.
During the meeting, Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley and Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney outlined the format for the latest bid to resolve the impasse.
The process will involve agenda-setting and stock-taking meetings between the five leaders and two governments at least once a week, with five working groups set up to focus on the detail of key disputes at the heart of the deadlock.
The tone of yesterday’s preliminary meeting was understood to be more harmonious than the last gathering of the party leaders in the winter.
Afterwards, DUP leader Arlene Foster said she would enter the talks with a “good heart” and with determination to find a solution.
“We want devolution to work because we are a devolutionist party,” she said.
“From our part I was very clear with all the other parties that we will not be found wanting in getting a deal to get Stormont up and running again.
“We are entering this talks process to find a way forward. It has to, of course, be a balanced way forward and one that everyone in Northern Ireland is comfortable with, whether they are unionist, nationalist or indeed other – and I think that’s very important.
“We are not looking at the prospect of failure – we want this to work.”
Six previous talks initiatives to restore devolution have failed to find consensus.
Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald said her party was ready to “do the business”.
“The current stalemate is not acceptable and not sustainable, there are outstanding issues that need to be resolved, and we believe they can be resolved,” she said.
After the meeting, Mrs Bradley said: “None of us should be under any illusions about this.
“There are some very significant challenges and this is not going to be easy, and therefore I’d ask that we all give the parties time and space to allow them to address these difficult issues and to come to the right conclusion for the people of Northern Ireland, which is the restoration of devolution.”
She said she would not be making any further public comment on the talks during the process.
Mr Coveney described the first meeting as constructive and positive.