Belfast Telegraph

Coveney 'harming prospects of Stormont deal'

By Noel McAdam

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney has been accused of harming the prospects of a deal at Stormont after backing Sinn Fein's demand for an Irish Language Act.

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said yesterday it was hoped the move was only "a temporary lapse of judgment" rather than an indication of Mr Coveney's approach.

Arguing the intervention in the middle of last week had been "unhelpful", Sir Jeffrey - who helped negotiate his party's £1bn deal with the Conservatives - said: "I hope that Simon will reflect on what he has done and say something publicly about the need for the Irish government to be impartial and not to interfere in matters internal to Northern Ireland.

"It is deeply unhelpful and harmed the prospect of reaching an agreement. I think his intervention was ill-advised and I can only hope it was a temporary lapse of judgment, rather than an indication of how he will approach future relationships."

There was no immediate response from the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin last night. But in the Sunday Business Post newspaper Mr Coveney, who took over the post from Charlie Flanagan in the middle of last month, defended his decision to inform RTE last week that Dublin supported Sinn Fein's core demand for an Irish Language Act.

Mr Coveney insisted he had merely restated a long-held position of the Irish government, which had been outlined in the past.

"My broader role has been to try and find a way forward and to look at compromises.

"I have done what I can to be a constructive influence and I think other parties have found that to be the case," he said.

Mr Coveney also made clear his remarks about special status for Northern Ireland in the context of Brexit were "distinct" from Sinn Fein's demand for special recognition inside the European Union.

"I spoke to the DUP about that in some detail and put the context around it," Mr Coveney added. "I have been the one advocating for a unique solution for Northern Ireland in a way that is consistent with a paper that all parties in the North, including the DUP, have put forward as a basis for how issues can be resolved."

Last Wednesday, the DUP said it would be meeting Mr Coveney and urging him to respect the 'three-stranded' structure of the talks, with Dublin staying out of "internal" Northern Ireland issues.

South Belfast MLA Christopher Stalford said: "The Irish government has no jurisdiction in Northern Ireland, yet in the past week it has proceeded to voice opinions and meddle in matters which are entirely for the Northern Ireland Executive.

"Only last week the Irish government lectured our United Kingdom government on the importance of observing neutrality when dealing with Northern Ireland parties.

"Yet by publicly declaring its support for Sinn Fein's position in negotiations, the Irish government has undermined its own credibility as being neutral. Minister Coveney will now need to address this.

"The DUP wants a constructive relationship with the Irish government, but it must be founded upon matters of mutual interest and respect between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland."

SDLP Mid Ulster MLA Patsy McGlone said the protection of language is no threat to any community or culture.

He said: "No-one understands that more than language speakers, who only want basic legislative protection.

"If parties are interested in an inclusive and sustainable Executive, they need to demonstrate a willingness to protect and respect the rights of language speakers in a way that has been absent."

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