BELFAST (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Theresa May is to meet the leaders of Northern Ireland’s main political parties on Thursday in a bid to help secure agreement between pro-British unionists and Irish nationalists to form a regional government, her office said.
May’s Conservative Party, which failed to win a majority in last week’s British general election, has been talking to Northern Ireland’s largest party, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to secure the support of their 10 members of parliament in Westminster.
But Irish nationalists Sinn Fein have voiced concerns a tie-up could destabilise politics in Northern Ireland and undermine the British government’s neutrality in overseeing talks to form a new power-sharing government for the province.
Northern Ireland’s power-sharing administration, created under a 1998 Good Friday Agreement peace deal, collapsed in January and talks have been going on since a regional election in March to restore it.
Sinn Fein has said it does not want the DUP to put forward its leader Arlene Foster as first minister until the results of a corruption probe are finalised.
Sinn Fein has said that if May makes concessions to the DUP that would disadvantage Irish nationalists, then a deal would be more difficult to secure.
Sinn Fein, which won seven seats in the British parliament at last week’s election but will maintain its policy of not taking them, said its leader in Northern Ireland, Michelle, O‘Neill would repeat those concerns in London on Thursday.
“It’s imperative that both governments recommit to the word, spirit and implementation of the Good Friday Agreement if there is to be any prospect of re-establishing the Executive,” O‘Neill said in a statement.
The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), the Ulster Unionists and the Alliance Party - which all failed to win any seats in the general election - said they would also meet May.
May’s office said Northern Ireland’s five main parties would take part, but a spokesman for the DUP did not immediately respond to a request to confirm their participation.
“The context in which the talks process is now being asked to operate could have very serious consequences if there is any suggestion of a back room deal with the DUP. We will be asking the prime minister to be open with politicians and also with the public,” SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said in a statement.
Reporting by Amanda Ferguson in Belfast and Kylie MacLellan in London, Writing by Conor Humphries; Editing by Alison Williams