BELFAST (Reuters) – Irish nationalists and pro-British unionists in Northern Ireland began talks on Monday to restore devolved government to the province at a time when the United Kingdom’s imminent departure from the European Union threatens the already delicate political balance.
Parliament buildings at Stormont is seen at night in Belfast, Northern Ireland February 15, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
Northern Ireland has been without a devolved administration for almost three years.
Sinn Fein, the largest nationalist party, withdrew in January 2017 saying it was not being treated as an equal partner. Since then Sinn Fein and the largest pro-British party, the Democratic Unionist Party, have blamed each other for the failure to restore a power-sharing government.
But voters punished both in the British election last week, raising pressure on their leaders to cut a deal.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s emphatic election victory means that Brexit is now a certainty. But Northern Ireland, the only one of the United Kingdom’s constituent countries to have a land border with an EU nation, is exposed to many potential negative consequences.
Unionists, who want Northern Ireland to remain British, fear Johnson’s decision to align Northern Ireland with EU market rules to keep the border frictionless may undermine its place in the United Kingdom and pave the way to a United Ireland.
Irish nationalists, who seek a union with the Republic of Ireland, say EU membership and the open borders it allowed was a main ingredient in the 1998 peace agreement that ended largely 30 years of sectarian and political violence.
Since the Brexit referendum they have increased call