Northern Ireland’s DUP backs deal to restore devolved government

FILE PHOTO: Ireland’s Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Leo Varadkar speaks during a joint news conference with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, European Council President Donald Tusk and European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier at the European Union leaders summit, in Brussels, Belgium October 17, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/File Photo

BELFAST (Reuters) – Talks between Irish nationalists and pro-British unionists in Northern Ireland to restore devolved government there are reaching an “advanced stage”, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on Thursday.

Politicians in the British province have until Monday to end a three-year hiatus or risk fresh elections that London has said will be called if no agreement is reached.

Sinn Fein, the largest nationalist party, withdrew from the power-sharing government exactly three years ago saying it was not being treated equally. Since then Sinn Fein and the largest pro-British party, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), have blamed each other for successive failed attempts to break the deadlock.

DUP lawmakers from the regional assembly and the UK parliament in London were due to meet at 1600 GMT on Thursday, a source familiar with the process told Reuters, as Varadkar sounded a positive note in Dublin.

“I gave the cabinet an update on the situation in the North. Talks are reaching an advanced stage now in Stormont,” Varadkar told a news conference, referring to the Northern Irish assembly.

The importance of the devolved administration has increased following a provision in Britain’s European Union withdrawal deal that will give the assembly the right every four years to consider whether to maintain alignment with EU market rules.

Reporting by Ian Graham in Belfast and Padraic Halpin in Dublin; Editing by Catherine Evans

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