Northern Ireland’s DUP reports progress in talks with UK government

By Amanda Ferguson

BELFAST (Reuters) -Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) on Monday said progress had been made in talks with the British government on restoring a power-sharing government in the region, but declined to give a timetable for a possible deal.

Northern Ireland has been without a regional government for almost two years after the DUP walked out in protest over Britain’s attempts to settle post-Brexit trade rules for the region, which the party says created significant trade barriers with the rest of the United Kingdom.

“We’ve made real progress and I am hopeful we can get to a point where a decision can be made about the restoration of the political institutions,” DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson told journalists.

Donaldson described as “significant” the progress made in talks around the UK-EU Northern Ireland Protocol and Windsor Framework trade arrangements, but said discussions were continuing.

Irish nationalists and pro-British unionist politicians are obliged to share power under the terms of the 1998 Good Friday peace accord that ended three decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.

But the ability of the largest party on either side to pull down power-sharing for long periods has been a block on progress.

The DUP has come under additional pressure from public sector trade unions in recent weeks, who plan to hold a major strike on Thursday to protest against the impact of the government shutdown on workers’ wages. Union protesters surrounded Donaldson as he spoke to the media.

The British government in December said it would provide Northern Ireland with 3.3 billion pounds ($4.2 billion) of additional funding over five years if an agreement is reached to re-establish power-sharing.

($1 = 0.7868 pounds)

(Reporting by Amanda Ferguson; Writing by Conor Humphries; Editing by Andrew Heavens)