May 7, 2019 / 3:35 PM / 5 months ago

Northern Ireland parties launch new bid to form government

FILE PHOTO: Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Arlene Foster with Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O'Neill attend the funeral service for murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast, Northern Ireland April 24, 2019. Charles McQuillan/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

BELFAST (Reuters) - The leaders of Northern Ireland’s main political parties met for talks on Tuesday in their first attempt in more than a year to restore the British region’s devolved government, which has been frozen since early 2017.

Representatives of Irish nationalists Sinn Fein and the pro-British Democratic Unionists held meetings at the Stormont parliament outside Belfast.

After the meeting, Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said her party was “ready and willing to do the business” while DUP leader Arlene Foster said her party would “not be found wanting”.

But neither side gave any indication of what compromises they might make to break the deadlock.

Power-sharing is central to Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace agreement, which ended three decades of violence in the region in which some 3,600 people were killed.

Attempts to find a compromise have been complicated by poor relations between Sinn Fein and the DUP, by the DUP’s role in propping up British Prime Minister Theresa May’s minority government in London, and by the impact on the region of the United Kingdom’s planned exit from the European Union.

The talks collapsed most recently in February 2018. Then Sinn Fein said it had reached an accommodation with the DUP leadership that put an agreement within reach but that the DUP had failed to close the deal and collapsed the talks.

The latest push to reach a compromise has been spurred by the fatal shooting last month of 29-year-old investigative journalist Lyra McKee during rioting by militant Irish nationalists.

The Irish government, which is co-guarantor of the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement for Northern Ireland, said it hoped to conclude the talks well in advance of mid-July, when annual parades often raise tensions between pro-British Protestants and Irish nationalist Catholics.

Reporting by Amanda Ferguson and Conor Humphries; Editing by Gareth Jones

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