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Latest Northern Ireland talks' deadline in doubt: Sinn Fein

DUBLIN (Reuters) - The latest deadline to restore Northern Ireland’s power-sharing executive is in doubt due to separate talks involving one of the parties over propping up British Prime Minister Theresa May’s government, Irish nationalists Sinn Fein said on Thursday.

Sinn Fein's Conor Murphy speaks to media at Stormont Parliament in Belfast, Northern Ireland, January 16, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

Northern Ireland politics has been in crisis since Sinn Fein pulled out of government in January, prompting an election in March and a series of missed deadlines to restore the compulsory coalition between Irish nationalists and pro-British unionists.

Talks were paused until after Britain’s national election on June 8 but have since been sidelined by May’s courting of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Northern Ireland’s largest unionist party, to back her minority government in London.

May’s Conservative Party has until next Thursday to secure the DUP’s support, the same date her outgoing government set for the DUP and Sinn Fein to reach a deal to return to devolved government together in Northern Ireland’s Stormont Assembly.

“Given the lack of progress in the Stormont Talks and the lack of knowledge about the impact of any Tory/DUP deal on our public services, on agreements and on the political institutions, Sinn Fein is concerned that time is running out,” Sinn Fein regional assembly member Conor Murphy said.

“The British government is content to go through the motions at Stormont but their main focus is elsewhere.”

Some analysts say a deal between May and the DUP that hands the British province additional funding but does not damage Irish nationalist interests or undermine peace could motivate Sinn Fein to agree to return to government.

However it will need to examine the details first. A senior lawmaker for the DUP said there was “a very good chance” it could reach a deal with May by next Thursday.

If the June 29 Northern Ireland deadline is missed, it would be the fourth such deadline set by the British government to pass without agreement since the March 2 regional election.

Northern Ireland risks reverting to direct rule from London for the first time in a decade if power-sharing cannot be restored, limiting the province’s say in Britain’s negotiations to leave the European Union.

Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Andrew Heavens