Wednesday, January 04, 2023

By David Young, PA

The Northern Ireland Secretary has invited Stormont leaders to engage in fresh talks ahead of a looming election deadline in the region.

Chris Heaton-Harris has asked the main parties to attend a meeting next Wednesday.

Mr Heaton-Harris convened similar round table discussions with the parties last month as he moved to intensify efforts to resolve the current powersharing deadlock at Stormont.

British prime minister Rishi Sunak also travelled to Belfast last month to discuss the political logjam with Stormont leaders.

US special envoy to Northern Ireland
DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson has said his party will not return to powersharing until changes to the NI Protocol are delivered. Photo: PA

Devolution has been in flux since February when the DUP withdrew its first minister from the ministerial executive in protest at Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol.

If a new executive is not formed by January 19th, the British government assumes a legal responsibility to call a snap Assembly election by April 13th.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who was reappointed as taoiseach for a second term last month, is due to visit Northern Ireland before the deadline.

Talks between the UK and EU to resolve the impasse over the contentious trading protocol are continuing with both sides continuing to insist a deal is possible.

Northern Ireland Assembly election
Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O’Neill would be in line to be Stormont First Minister if an executive was restored. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA

The DUP has made clear it will not allow a return to powersharing until radical changes to the protocol are delivered.

The region’s largest unionist party has blocked the formation of a new administration following May’s Assembly election and prevented the Assembly meeting to conduct legislative business as part of its protest over the Irish Sea trading arrangements.

It claims the protocol has undermined Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom by creating economic barriers on trade entering the region from Great Britain.

Mr Heaton-Harris has cut the pay of MLAs by 27.5 per cent to reflect the fact they are currently not doing their jobs as legislators.

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