Theresa Villiers announces new all party talks plan

Theresa Villiers announces new all party talks plan

IN what is being seen as the last throw of the dice, Secretary of State Theresa Villiers is to convene inter-party talks to crack the thorny issues of flags, parades and the past.

Last year US diplomat Richard Haass and his team failed to get all-party agreement on the issues.

Theresa Villiers told activists at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham that “disputes over flags, parades and the past are consuming ever increasing amounts of time and resources”.

British and Irish governments would be involved, adding that she wanted unionists to re-engage in the talks process.

“We urgently need unionists back round the table to tackle the legacy issues.

“I fully appreciate how very difficult these issues are, the roots of some of them date back centuries, but there are huge benefits for Northern Ireland if a way can be found to make progress on them,” she said.

Ms Villiers said it was now time for “a new round of cross-party talks to be convened to “lift the blockages which are now preventing the devolved executive from delivering the efficient and effective government that the people of Northern Ireland want and deserve”.

She added that there is “now an opportunity for the UK government to play a more direct role as a participant”.

The Secretary of state also attacked Sinn Féin and the SDLP over their objections to welfare reform, saying London has “no more to give” adding that their stance is “holding us back”.

“Welfare is devolved, so Northern Ireland can maintain parity with the rest of the UK or go it alone”.

First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson said his party would take part in the talks.

“It would be very silly if we weren’t there, because I was the one who encouraged her and, indeed, encouraged the other parties to join in those talks,” he said.

“I think it’s important, every party will have issues they want to raise and, in the first instance, undoubtedly those will be of a bilateral nature and hopefully when there’s a measure of agreement we can have more intensive discussions.”

Sinn Féin said it will also take part.

Welcoming the decision, party president Gerry Adams said: “For our part, Sinn Féin is ready for talks. We will enter them to resolve issues and will, as always, abide by any agreements made,” he said.

“Others must commit to do the same and the talks should be convened as a matter of urgency by the two governments and supported by the American administration.”

But TUV leader Jim Allister said Ms Villiers was “only interested in a sticking plaster approach”.

He said: “Stormont is broken because its structures are anti-democratic and fatally flawed.

“I see nothing in Ms Villiers’ speech which points towards recognition of the need for root and branch change.”

No date, time or schedule has been released on the new talks.

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