May, Varadkar Push to Restore Government in Northern Ireland

(Bloomberg) -- U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May and her Irish counterpart, Leo Varadkar, announced an effort to restore the power-sharing government in Northern Ireland, which has been suspended for more than two years.

Discussions involving all the region’s major parties will start “as soon as possible” after local elections on May 2, the two leaders said on Friday. The aim is to restore the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly, they said.

“We understand the complexity of the underlying concerns of all parties, and the need for renewed trust, mutual respect, generosity and new thinking to resolve the issues,” they said.

Northern Ireland’s assembly broke up in January 2017 following a probe into the spiraling costs of a renewable energy initiative alongside a row over recognizing Irish as an official language. The region has been run by civil servants ever since, with the two biggest parties -- the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein -- failing to broker a deal to end the impasse.

The fresh attempt to find a solution was triggered at least in part by the killing last week of 29-year-old journalist Lyra McKee, who was shot dead in Derry, or Londonderry, during rioting last week. The so-called new IRA said it accidentally shot her as she stood near police.

With both May and Varadkar, as well as Northern Ireland’s squabbling political leaders, all attending her funeral, priest Martin Magill was given a standing ovation when he called for parties to work together.

“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 to this point” of having all the leaders side by side, he said.

In their statement, May and Varadkar referred to the “unmistakable message to all political leaders, that people across Northern Ireland want to see a new momentum for political progress.”

DUP leader Arlene Foster said after the announcement that any agreement will need compromise.

“Anyone who thinks agreement can be reached through a one-sided wish-list being implemented is not routed in reality,” Foster said in a statement. “Our preference would be for the Assembly to be restored and have the talks process in parallel.”

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