Northern Ireland to extend deadline for power-sharing talks

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Northern Ireland’s political deadlock is set to continue until after the UK general election on June 8.

Talks among the province’s political leaders on forming a new power-sharing arrangement between unionists and nationalists are likely to be extended until late June after being thrown into disarray by Theresa May’s decision earlier this week to call a snap election.

The extension of the talks is the latest interruption to an on-off series of negotiations between the Democratic Unionists, Sinn Féin and three smaller parties. Deadlines have been missed and extended twice since Northern Ireland underwent its own snap election on March 2.

The latest extension means Northern Ireland is unlikely to have a separate election for a devolved assembly on the same day as the June 8 nationwide general election. It also means the province have no political representation for at least the next two months.

Colum Eastwood, leader of the centrist Social Democratic and Labour party, told the Irish broadcaster RTE the new deadline for forming a power-sharing devolved executive was likely to be the end of June.

The all-party talks are being brokered by James Brokenshire, the Northern Ireland secretary, and Charlie Flanagan, the Irish foreign minister, at Stormont. They have become bogged down in disagreements between the Democratic Unionist party and Sinn Féin, and are becoming overshadowed by a gulf between the DUP and the other parties over Brexit.

Northern Ireland voted by 56 per cent to 44 per cent to remain in the EU in last June’s referendum. The DUP is the only party in Northern Ireland that supported the UK’s departure from the EU.

Michelle O’Neill, Sinn Féin’s leader at Stormont, accused the British government on Thursday of wanting to see the devolved executive and assembly in Northern Ireland collapse rather than face a new executive that opposed a hard Brexit.

“There is a growing belief among nationalists and people who voted to remain that the British government would prefer no local Assembly to one which stands against the Tories’ reckless Brexit agenda,” she said.

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