Fresh talks to restore NI Assembly ahead of strike

Talks resume in Northern Ireland today as more than 150,000 public sector workers prepare to strike this week in a pay dispute linked to the continued absence of devolution.

Northern Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris will meet the parties in turn at Hillsborough tomorrow for a series of bilaterals, however an imminent breakthrough is not expected.

In a statement issued to coincide with the fresh talks, Mr Heaton-Harris said.

“I am meeting with the Northern Ireland parties today to discuss if an Executive can be re-established as soon as possible.

Chris Heaton-Harris will meet the parties at Hillsborough tomorrow

“The focus of our talks will be the generous package that was offered to the parties before Christmas worth over £3 billion.

“This includes money to address public sector pay – that offer remains on the table.

“This offer was made after the effective conclusion of the Windsor Framework talks on all issues of substance.”

The current deadline under UK law for the restoration of a Stormont Executive is midnight on Thursday – the same day as the walkout. But there is a widespread expectation that it will be extended again, as has happened before.

The strike planned for Thursday is the biggest ever co-ordinated action in Northern Ireland’s history.

At least 15 unions are involved, including some of the largest public sector ones.

The action will effectively shut the place down.

Workers are angry because while they’ve been told there’s £600m available from the UK Treasury to begin to address their demands, it will not start to flow until there is a deal to restore power-sharing.

The current deadline under UK law for the restoration of a Stormont Executive is midnight on Thursday

The DUP has accused the UK government of using the pay dispute as a cynical ploy to persuade it to return to Stormont.

It says it will not do so until further concessions are secured on the Windsor Framework – the post-Brexit trade arrangements applied to Northern Ireland.

The DUP say they leave Northern Ireland cut off economically and constitutionally from the rest of the UK.

The assembly will return briefly on Wednesday, on the eve of the strike.

A Sinn Féin recall motion is likely to get sufficient support from other parties to get the go-ahead.

It cannot elect a speaker without DUP support but it will give their rivals an opportunity to express their frustration with the ongoing stalemate.

Mr Heaton-Harris is due to take questions at Westminster on Wednesday.

He may take the opportunity to set out the British government’s position on next steps in the absence of a restored Executive.

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