Negotiations to break Stormont impasse expected to begin on Monday

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Talks to restore Northern Ireland’s Assembly look likely to begin on Monday.

Following Friday’s General Election, parties across the political spectrum have stated their intent to get back around the negotiating table.

It also appears that despite the election shake-up, Julian Smith will remain Northern Ireland Secretary of State.

Mr Smith spoke with all five party leaders on Sunday morning and later tweeted: “Good calls with all five party leaders this morning. Look forward to starting positive process tomorrow to get Stormont back up and running.”

Stormont has been in cold storage for more than 1,000 days due to a stand-off between Sinn Fein and the DUP on issues such as Irish language legislation and a ban on same-sex marriage.

Public opinion over the stalemate has had a detrimental effect on the two major parties and this has been reflected in recent elections.

The DUP suffered a considerable blow after party deputy leader Nigel Dodds lost his seat in North Belfast to Sinn Fein’s John Finucane.

Likewise, Sinn Fein lost its seat in Foyle to the SDLP by a huge majority, in what is being seen as a resurgence in support for Colum Eastwood’s party.

They also took a seat from the DUP in South Belfast.

It is understood both the DUP and Sinn Fein are keen to be seen to getting back around the table to restore confidence with the electorate before any further elections.

Sinn Fein TD Martin Kenny appeared on RTE’s The Week in Politics on Sunday, saying his party ”absolutely wants to be back in Stormont” in January.

“We don’t have any red lines, all we have called for is that all parties need to agree to implement the agreements that have already been reached,” he said.

Mr Smith previously stated that unless agreement is reached by January 13, fresh assembly elections will be triggered.

DUP leader Arlene Foster issued a statement on Sunday which said: “We will be attending the talks on Monday. People want decisions made about welfare, hospitals and schools. That was the clear message of the election. Northern Ireland has been deprived of local ministerial-led government for three years.

“Central to the talks must be the sustainability of the institutions so never again can one party hold the rest of Northern Ireland to ransom. Sinn Fein has barred everyone from Government for three years despite other parties willing to take their seats.

“We live in a divided society and to move forward will require all the parties to step up to the plate. For my part, we will not be found wanting. Northern Ireland can only move forward when we are prepared to work together.”

Colum Eastwood also released a statement calling for a restoration of Stormont.

He said: “We are entering last-chance talks this week. The SDLP has made bold proposals that are uncomfortable for us but are in the interests of restoring government to meet the needs of patients, pupils and healthcare workers.

“We will continue to stretch ourselves but it is for the DUP and Sinn Fein to set aside their dispute and act, at last, in the interests of the people we all represent.”

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