Stormont talks have reached very sensitive stage, Taoiseach says.

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Talks to restore powersharing in Northern Ireland have reached a very sensitive stage, the Taoiseach has said.

Leo Varadkar highlighted the delicate nature of the last ditch negotiations to save Stormont as he declined to be drawn on a Dail question on Irish unity.

Mr Varadkar, who in December spoke of his aspiration to see a united Ireland, told TDs on Tuesday he did not want to say anything that might cause offence to anyone at such a crucial juncture in the process in Belfast.

After Monday’s first round table exchange between the five Stormont parties and UK and Irish governments, the talks returned to a bilateral format on Tuesday.

Ni powersharing talks
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said talks to restore powersharing at Stormont have reached a “very sensitive stage” (Niall Carson/PA).

“I don’t think there would be any good purpose being served in giving anyone any cause to take offence.

“So I think that’s all I’ll say for today, but I know Minister Coveney is working very hard today in Belfast trying to help the parties, particularly the two largest parties come to a compromise so that the Executive and Assembly can be up and running again.”

Secretary of State Karen Bradley is due to update the House of Commons on the developments on Wednesday, ahead of the next round table session at Stormont on Thursday.

Northern Ireland has been without a functioning administration for over a year after the last DUP/Sinn Fein-led coalition imploded in a row over a botched green energy scheme.

That rift subsequently widened to take in long-running disputes over culture, social issues and legacy.

Civil servants have been running Stormont’s public services during the impasse, however they are hamstrung by their inability to take major policy decisions.

With the pressing need for budget to be struck for the next financial year, if the latest talks bid fails, the UK government will face mounting pressure to introduce a form of Westminster direct rule to provide financial certainty.

The Alliance Party said Mrs Bradley needed to provide clarity on the budget situation urgently.

NI powersharing talks
The Alliance Party’s Stephen Farry has called on Secretary of State Karen Bradley to provide clarity on the budgetary situation at Stormont (Liam McBurney).

“Every day that goes by means less time for departments and agencies to plan ahead. With scarce resources available, it is important every opportunity to spend what is available efficiently and effectively is taken.

“If there are no swift decisions, more and more resources will in effect be wasted, and in the community and voluntary sector that provides many services on behalf of government, staff will inevitably be placed on protective notice.

“There is some complacency about us stumbling along and catching up with financial decisions in due course. Formal budget legislation can follow, but a political authority does need to confirm the actual budget allocations as a matter of urgency.”

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