Brexit clarity could help revive talks on Northern Ireland government - Sinn Fein

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Clarity on Brexit could open the way for Northern Ireland’s feuding parties to engage in detailed talks aimed at reviving its power-sharing government, the deputy leader of the Irish nationalist Sinn Fein party said on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: Northern Ireland's Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O'Neill outside the Houses of Parliament, in Westminster, London, Britain, February 13, 2019. REUTERS/Hannah McKay/File Photo

The British-run region will have been without a devolved executive for three years in January, the latest deadline Britain’s Northern Ireland minister has set before deciding whether to call elections or give London more control.

Attempts to break the deadlock have been complicated by difficult relations between Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party - Northern Ireland’s two largest parties - as well as the DUP’s role in propping up the British government in London and the impact of Britain’s exit from the European Union.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is battling to push legislation through the British parliament that will enact a last-minute Brexit deal and allow him to stick to the latest Oct. 31 deadline for Britain’s departure from the EU.

While the DUP have said they will oppose the deal, complicating Johnson’s task, the Northern Irish party’s key role in the Brexit talks has limited its room to negotiate in Belfast, Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill said.

“They (DUP) only have the bandwidth in which to deal with the situation in Britain and they do not have the capacity then to deal with the situation in the North. It is a view I believe is shared by both (British and Irish) governments,” O’Neill, Sinn Fein’s leader in Northern Ireland, told reporters in Dublin.

“All efforts need to be now on trying to find a resolution and perhaps Brexit clarity will allow us the opportunity to be able to do that,” she said. “That begs the question of whether political unionism is up for doing a deal in this space,” she said referring to the devolved government in the North.

DUP Leader Arlene Foster said on Monday that her party wanted to get Northern Ireland moving again and that it was Sinn Fein who continued to block the formation of the executive.

A DUP spokesman was not immediately available for comment on O’Neill’s remarks.

O’Neill said the publication in the coming weeks of a report into the DUP’s handling of an energy scheme - the issue that caused Sinn Fein to withdraw from government in 2017 - could also create space for talks.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, whose government are co-guarantors of Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace agreement that the devolved government is central to, also said on Tuesday that Brexit and the possibility of a snap British election had complicated the task of restoring the executive.

Reporting by Padraic Halpin. Editing by Jane Merriman