Why has Stormont been in a two-year deadlock and what do the latest round of talks mean?

A No Entry sign outside Parliament Buildings at Stormont in Belfast. Credit: PA

The political deadlock in Stormont has been ongoing for more than two years, with Northern Ireland's two biggest parties, Sinn Fein and the DUP, unable to come to an agreement.

What caused Stormont to collapse?

The Stormont deadlock arose over the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI).

The eco-subsidy scheme left administration facing a possible £500m overspend, which led to the late Sinn Fein deputy first minister Martin McGuiness resigning from the executive due to the DUP's handling of the situation.

The row has now snowballed into a number of other factors, including key sticking points over the establishment of an Irish language act and same sex marriage.

What are the other sticking points between the parties?

Sinn Fein are keen to overturn the DUP's ban on same-sex marriage.

There are also differences with Brexit, with the DUP pro-Leave and Sinn Fein pro-Remain.

Stalled mechanisms to deal with the legacy of the Troubles is another source of contention. But there is a growing view that none of these would, in themselves, prevent an executive being formed.

It seemingly all hinges on the Irish language, which is a key demand of Sinn Fein.

What has been the impact on the public services in Northern Ireland?

Health and education are two devolved issues which Stormont is supposed to handle.

Representatives from nurseries, primary schools and secondary schools have raised concerns over budget cuts.

Schools say they are at breaking point due to the shortfall in Northern Ireland's education budget.

NHS Northern Ireland is also suffering from growing waiting lists - already the longest in the UK - and staff shortages.

What happened in the previous round of talks?

Talks have previously ended in failure.

The last round of talks took place on Valentine's Day 2018 after the two parties clashes on what had been agreed.

In the last round of talks, Secretary of State Karen Bradley cut MLAs wages to put pressure on politicians.

In February this year, Ms Bradley initiated discussions between the main parties, however that too ended without any consensus on the outstanding issues.

What is the latest round of talks about and why now?

The fresh round of talks comes after several political parties wrote to Ms Bradley in the wake of the murder of journalist Lyra McKee.

At her funeral on Wednesday, Catholic priest Father Martin Magill received a standing ovation when he questioned why it had taken the death of Ms McKee to bring them all together.

During the service, he said: "Why does it take the death of a 29-year-old woman with her whole life in front of her to get to this point?"

His message appears to have hit a note with political leaders, as 48 hours later news of a fresh wave of talks was announced.

The DUP says it wants to see the Northern Ireland Assembly up and running immediately, and has called for a time-limited process to deal with outstanding issues.

This idea, however, was rejected by Sinn Fein in September 2017. Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald this week said that her party will not “capitulate” on an Irish language act for Northern Ireland in a bid to resolve the political impasse.

The all-party discussions are expected to start after next week’s council elections.