Birmingham: Britain and Ireland are to revive talks between nationalist and unionist parties in Northern Ireland to resolve a standoff that has at times threatened to topple the power-sharing administration.
The two countries announced today a new round of discussions would be convened to break deadlock over the divisive issues of flags, parades and dealing with the region's troubled past.
"I fully appreciate how very difficult these issues are, the roots of some of them date back centuries, but there are huge benefits for Northern Ireland if a way can be found to make progress on them," said Britain's Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers.
"The time is now right for a new round of cross-party talks to be convened to seek a way forward on the outstanding issues.
"In the coming days I will be engaging with the five main parties and the Irish government to discuss in more detail the precise format and agenda," she told the Conservative Party's annual conference in Birmingham, central England.
A failure to agree on implementing Westminster reforms to social welfare has deepened the divide between Northern Ireland's mostly Protestant unionists, who back staying in the United Kingdom, and the mainly Catholic nationalists, who want to join the Republic of Ireland.
The blockages are "preventing the devolved executive from delivering the efficient and effective government that the people of Northern Ireland want"," Villiers said.
The signing of the historic Good Friday Agreement peace deal in 1998 largely brought an end to 30 years of unrest known as "The Troubles", though violence periodically flares.
But outstanding issues remain and four months of lengthy negotiations chaired by Richard Haass, the former US special envoy to Northern Ireland, ended at the New Year with no agreement.
Unionists walked out of further talks in July after a decision to limit the route of an Orange Order parade marking a historic Protestant victory, an event that often leads to violence.
The Belfast City Hall's 2012 decision to fly the British Union Jack flag periodically, rather than year-round, sparked sporadic riots and street protests.
Disagreement also surrounds how to bring closure to the many unsolved murders committed during The Troubles and who counts as a "victim" of the unrest. Nationalist parties' refusal to back welfare reform has deepened the impasse.