Irish, British governments call new Northern Ireland talks

Killing of journalist by paramilitary group in Londonderry spurs action to resolve political deadlock in Belfast.

    Ireland's Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar, British Prime Minister Theresa May and Irish President Michael D Higgins attend McKee's funeral in Belfast [Charles McQuillan/Reuters]
    Ireland's Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar, British Prime Minister Theresa May and Irish President Michael D Higgins attend McKee's funeral in Belfast [Charles McQuillan/Reuters]

    Britain and Ireland have announced a new round of talks with the main political parties in Northern Ireland in a bid to restore Belfast's collapsed government. 

    In a joint statement on Friday, British Prime Minister Theresa May and her Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar said the talks will begin next week after local elections are held in the region. 

    Northern Ireland has not had a government for two years, since the Irish nationalist Sinn Fein party withdrew from a compulsory power-sharing agreement with the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

    But the killing of 29-year-old journalist Lyra McKee during a riot last week by the New IRA, an Irish nationalist paramilitary group, has increased pressure on political parties and the British and Irish governments to resolve the political crisis.

    "In coming together with other political leaders in St Anne's Cathedral to pay tribute to Lyra McKee, we gave expression to the clear will and determination of all of the people of these islands to reject violence and to support peace," May and Varadkar said in a joint statement.

    "We also heard the unmistakable message to all political leaders that people across Northern Ireland want to see a new momentum for political progress. We agree that what is now needed is actions and not just words from all of us who are in positions of leadership."

    The aim of the talks was to quickly re-establish the full operation of the institutions with progress to be reviewed at the end of May, they said.

    The New IRA, which violently opposes the peace process in Northern Ireland, admitted one of its members killed McKee, saying she was accidentally shot as they attacked police officers.

    At McKee's funeral on Wednesday, Father Martin Magill praised Northern Ireland's political leaders for coming together but received a standing ovation when he asked: "Why in God's name does it take the death of a 29-year-old woman with her whole life in front of her to get us to this point?"

    The two biggest parties in Northern Ireland are supposed to govern in a compulsory power-sharing agreement reached in 1998 to end decades of conflict.

    The agreement broke down in January 2017 over a range of issues, including rights for Irish-language speakers.

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    Both the DUP and Sinn Fein have blamed each other for the political paralysis, as several rounds of talks have failed to produce an agreement.

    The talks most recently collapsed in February last year.

    "The death of Lyra McKee has certainly sparked off a wave of emotion right across society here," journalist Eamonn McCann told Al Jazeera from Londonderry, also known as Derry.

    "But it's a bit early to say that this wave of emotion is going to carry us to peace, or carry us to a new political settlement."

    "There is no doubt that there is a great yearning for new thinking, for something that can be done differently. One of the problems is that, if you look at the two main political leaderships, there is no indication at all that either of these parties are changing their basic beliefs. And their basic beliefs are divided from one another," he said.

    Attempts to find an agreement have been complicated by the DUP's role in propping up May's minority government in London and the impact on the region of Britain's planned exit from the European Union.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies