“Time is short and one last opportunity to reach agreement remains," Northern Ireland’s new Secretary of State, Karen Bradley, will declare today.

One year since Northern Ireland’s Assembly collapsed over a renewable heating scandal, the province remains without devolved government and talks between the DUP and Sinn Féin have floundered.

Sinn Féin want greater rights for Irish speakers when dealing with officialdom and they also want same sex marriage legalized - a move that would bring Northern Irish law into line with the rest of the UK and Ireland. Both proposals are bitterly opposed by the DUP, the first on grounds of cost and the second on grounds of tradition.

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley

Speaking alongside Ireland's Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister), Simon Coveney, Bradley declared, "Over the past eight months, the political parties, particularly the DUP and Sinn Féin, have made progress in closing the gaps existing between them on a range of difficult issues.

"The gaps are narrow, but there are still significant differences to overcome. But based on my conversations so far, I believe it is possible to reach agreement."

According to @McConnellDaniel Tensions are running high but ''relations between Simon Coveney and Karen Bradley have got off to a good start''

— Joe Finnegan Show (@JoeFinneganShow) January 18, 2018

The new round of talks set to commence on Wednesday January 24th and will involve the British and Irish Government as well as Northern Ireland’s five largest parties.

Frustration with the glacial progress of talks have even seen calls for a return to direct rule from Westminster - a move resisted by London or Dublin, neither of which have any desire to see the British Government once again administer the province’s schools and hospitals.

DUP MP calls for Government to prepare appointment of “Direct Rule ministers”... though understand one last last throw of Executive negotiation dice likely...
This is important stuff, impacts confidence & supply deal & Brexit pic.twitter.com/DTBNmlYXkA

— Faisal Islam (@faisalislam) January 17, 2018

A Government source told Sky News, “The new Secretary of State is absolutely determined to get this over the line… She wants to get devolved government back as soon as possible and there is no other scenario that she even wants to think about."

Northern Ireland's hibernating Assembly Wikimedia Commons