Northern Ireland

Lords urge Theresa May to visit NI to break Stormont deadlock

Theresa May
Image caption Both Labour and Tory peers have urged Theresa May to visit NI over the Stormont deadlock

Prime Minister Theresa May should go to Northern Ireland for fresh talks to help restore a power-sharing executive, the House of Lords has been told.

Both Labour and Tory peers urged her to visit in person to break the deadlock between Stormont's biggest parties.

They included a former Northern Ireland secretary, Lord Murphy of Torfaen.

"Isn't it about time the prime minister actually goes to Belfast and talks directly with the parties and the Irish government?" he asked.

"Until that happens, I fear we will make little progress," the former Labour minister warned.

Northern Ireland has been without devolved government since January, after the power-sharing coalition led by the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin collapsed.

Image caption Lord Murphy of Torfaen said Mrs May needs to get involved in the talks directly

The parties initially clashed over a green energy scandal involving the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme.

However, after months of talks and missed deadlines, they have been unable to reform a government due to long-running disagreements over several issues, including Irish language legislation and same-sex marriage.

At question time in the House of Lords, Conservative peer, Lord Cormack, added his voice to calls for Mrs May to intervene in person.

"There is no substitute for a visit," he said, urging her to go to Northern Ireland and "talk on the spot" with Stormont's parties.

Responding for the government, Viscount Younger of Leckie said Mrs May was taking "a very close interest" and had "close involvement" in the Belfast talks.

"Should she see fit, she will indeed travel to Northern Ireland," he said.

Last month, Sinn Fein urged Mrs May and the Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar to intervene and "take direct responsibility" for the Stormont negotiations.

Image caption Northern Ireland has been without devolved government since the collapse of the Stormont executive in January

The parties had just missed their latest government deadline to restore coalition government.

Meanwhile, the lack of a devolved government meant Northern Ireland was not represented when leaders from Scotland and Wales met the EU's chief Brexit negotiator on Thursday.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones, met Michel Barnier in Brussels on Thursday.

The meeting took place on the same day that the UK government published a bill to convert EU law into British law.

The legislation, known as the repeal bill, will ensure the same rules apply in the UK after Brexit, while giving the UK Parliament power to change them.

However, the Welsh leader described the bill as a "naked power-grab" and an "attack on the foundations of devolution".

Both he and the Scottish first minister said they cannot back the repeal bill "as it currently stands".

They claimed the bill "does not return powers from the EU to the devolved administrations, as promised".

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