New talks process a ‘last opportunity’

SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood
SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood

SDLP leader, Colum Eastwood, MLA, has welcomed the planned resumption of talks tomorrow aimed at restoring the Northern Ireland Executive.

The SDLP leader also said, however, that he “would not blame the public if they felt a sense of déjà vu.”

Mr. Eastwood’s comments come after the SDLP held conversations last week with the leaders of the UUP and the Alliance Party,

The Foyle MLA said: “We all agree that the progress and compromises supposedly made between the DUP and Sinn Féin must be shared and the negotiations must proceed on that basis.”

Newly installed Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley and Irish Foreign Affairs Minister, Tánaiste Simon Coveney, TD, met in Belfast last week and announced the fresh talks process, with Karen Bradley warning that this was the “last opportunity” to get the institutions back up and running.

Speaking ahead of the talks process getting under way, Mr Eastwood added: “I welcome the announcement that talks are being reconvened by the Irish and British Governments. Almost three weeks ago I made the call that the crisis in our health service must be the basis on which talks are reconvened – that remains as real today as it did then.

“After a year without a government, restoring our institutions must mean getting back to the job of government and taking responsibility for our economy and public services.”

Mr Eastwood said he could not blame people for feeling that we have all been here before.

“For a year now there has been a cycle of talks with a supposed deadline and every time they have ended in collapse,” he said.

“That pattern of previous failure is why I have made it clear to both governments that these talks must be conducted completely differently – we cannot go on doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome.

“That means no party which holds a mandate from the people of the North can be expected to act as window dressing for private negotiations between the DUP and Sinn Féin. Unlike in the past, inclusive talks must mean inclusive talks.”

Karen Bradley said that since her appointment she has held several discussions aimed at restoring the Northern Ireland Executive.

“What has quickly become clear to me is that time is short and one last opportunity to reach agreement remains,” she said, warning: “Without agreement we will be facing a set of political consequences that will represent a significant setback to the progress made since the signing of the Belfast Agreement in 1998.”

She added that the political parties, particularly the DUP and Sinn Fein, have made progress in closing the gaps between them on a range of “difficult issues.”

Simon Coveney, meanwhile said: “Northern Ireland has now been without a functioning devolved government for more than a year. This is not a position that can be sustained for much longer.

“We all have a responsibility over the coming weeks to make every possible effort to secure the effective operation of the devolved power-sharing institutions.”