Sharp improvement in Stormont talks outlook

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The latest attempts to restore local power-sharing government in Belfast have made progress and should conclude next week, according to Sinn Fein.

The Stormont Assembly and Executive collapsed over a year ago following the party’s withdrawal from the power-sharing government. Initially a dispute over the handling of corruption allegations against the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the crisis has since evolved into the larger problem of equality and civil rights.

The main sticking point preventing the restoration of the institutions at Stormont has been seen to be legislation to protect and promote the Irish language. There has also been discussion of the operation of the assembly’s controversial “petition of concern” system, which has been used as by the DUP as a veto against political change.

The British government has already taken steps towards total Direct Rule of the Six Counties directly from London for the first time in a decade, taking over its budget late last year. British Direct Ruler Karen Bradley had originally indicated that Wednesday would be a ‘milestone’ when she would update parliament on progress, but this passed without a fresh announcement.

Last week, there was evidence of a major thaw in relations between the two big parties as they agreed a plan to spend 4 million pounds on local projects at Belfast city council.

There have also been reports of a new determination by Sinn Fein to get back into power in the North as part of the current leadership transition.

Friday’s talks were Gerry Adams’s last as Sinn Fein president as he prepared to formally step down as leader having led the party since 1983. He was pictured at Stormont Buildings on his last night as leader.

“We’re not there yet,” said Mr Adams, who is being succeeded by Mary Lou McDonald. “There are still obstacles and difficulties and the fact that it’s taken so long shows how difficult it is.

“We have made some progress but there are still considerable obstacles but as I said to our unionist friends, this is the last chance agreement.

“They need to embrace the need for rights for everybody and agree a space where we can all moderate our differences.”

The DUP and Sinn Fein are expected to resume meetings on Monday, with Mary Lou McDonald as the new Sinn Fein leader.

Mr Adams insisted Sinn Fein wanted to see devolution return.

“Any power-sharing arrangement here has to be truly power-sharing,” he said.

“It would face big challenges because of Brexit and Tory austerity, but it is still better having local, accountable politicians who you can sack and who you can hold accountable for any decisions that they make.

“But this is the fifth round of talks. There are obviously challenges here for all of us.”

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