BIRMINGHAM England (Reuters) - Britain announced on Sunday that it would convene all-party talks to try and resolve a political deadlock in Northern Ireland caused by a row over welfare reforms that has threatened to bring down the devolved government.
Northern Ireland’s First Minister Peter Robinson called earlier this month for all-party talks to reform Belfast’s Stormont Assembly, saying that a row between power-sharing partners on budget cuts had shown the devolved government to be unfit for purpose in its current form.
On Sunday, Britain’s Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers said the talks should go ahead.
“The time is now right for a new round of cross-party talks to be convened,” Villiers said in a speech to the Conservative Party’s annual conference in Birmingham, England, on Sunday.
“Working together we can do all we can 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 which they deserve,” Villiers said.
Three decades of sectarian violence between mainly Catholic nationalists seeking Irish union and pro-British Protestants wishing to stay in the United Kingdom was mostly ended by a 1998 peace deal and subsequent power-sharing agreement.
But Belfast, which relies on a 10 billion pound ($16 billion) annual grant from London to run its public services, is deadlocked over welfare cuts.
Irish foreign minister Charlie Flanagan and Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams both welcomed the idea of talks. Villiers said she would be engaging with political parties and the Irish government to discuss the format of the talks and the precise agenda.
Reporting by William James; Editing by Susan Fenton