• Friday, Nov 15, 2019
  • Last Update : 11:36 pm

Bid to restore Northern Ireland government after killing

  • Published at 06:43 pm April 27th, 2019
A picture shows the Partliament Buildings on the Stormont Estate in Belfast on April 26, 2019 AFP

Northern Ireland has been without its semi-autonomous government since January 2017 following a breakdown in trust between its main parties

Britain and Ireland on Friday announced new talks to revive Northern Ireland's devolved power-sharing institutions on May 7, with the killing of a journalist by republican paramilitaries putting new impetus for a breakthrough.

Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom, has been without its semi-autonomous government since January 2017 following a breakdown in trust between its main parties.

In a rare joint statement, politicians from Northern Ireland's six biggest parties united to condemn the killing of 29-year-old Lyra McKee, shot dead on April 18 while reporting on riots in the second city of Londonderry, also known as Derry.

Her death has triggered a renewed attempt to mend fences between the main parties representing the British unionist and Irish nationalist communities.

'Unmistakable message' 

British Prime Minister Theresa May and her Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar announced Friday's development saying their attendance at McKee's funeral this week "gave expression to the clear will and determination of all the people of these islands to reject violence".

"We also heard the unmistakable message to all political leaders that people across Northern Ireland want to see a new momentum for political progress," the premiers said in a statement.

"We have agreed to establish a new process of political talks," they said.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney and Britain's Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley later held a press conference in Belfast at which they announced the May 7 date for the resumption of talks.

"Lyra symbolised the new Northern Ireland and her tragic death cannot be in vain," Bradley said.

The New IRA (Irish Republican Army) paramilitary splinter group, which violently opposes the peace process in Northern Ireland, admitted responsibility for McKee's killing, saying she was unintentionally shot as they attacked "enemy" police officers.

At her funeral on Wednesday, Father Martin Magill commended Northern Ireland's political leaders for joining together at her funeral, but asked, to a standing ovation: "Why in God's name does it take the death of a 29-year-old woman with her whole life in front of her to get us to this point?'"

Talks impasse 

The two largest parties, the pro-British Democratic Unionists (DUP) and Irish republican Sinn Fein, are at loggerheads over several issues.

The largest parties from each side are supposed to govern together under a power-sharing accord reached in 1998 to end three decades of violent conflict.

Sinn Fein brought down the executive in January 2017, citing a breakdown in trust.

Both blame the other for the paralysis and several exhaustive rounds of talks have floundered, with deadlines coming and going.

In the absence of an executive, the province has been run by civil servants.

DUP leader Arlene Foster has suggested a twin-track approach whereby the devolved institutions are restored quickly to deal with issues like schools and the health service, while a separate process addresses the sticking points that the parties cannot agree on.

Michelle O'Neill, Sinn Fein's leader in Northern Ireland, has rejected the plan, saying its demands including allowing same-sex marriage and official recognition of the Irish language had to be delivered.