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May insists DUP pact will not undermine Good Friday Agreement

By Noel McAdam

Theresa May has insisted her Government "remains steadfast" in support of the Good Friday Agreement after concerns that a deal with the DUP at Westminster could undermine the Stormont talks.

The Prime Minister said she believes the talks to restore the Executive can be successful in time for the deadline of June 29.

Mrs May stressed that "with good will" a resolution to restore the Executive can be reached.

Her comments came after talks in London with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, part of a sequence of meetings in the last few days.

All of the Stormont parties met both Mrs May and Mr Varadkar separately in London and Dublin last Thursday and Friday.

The Prime Minister said she and the Taoiseach were agreed "on the crucial need for the parties in Northern Ireland to form a fully functioning Executive by the June 29 deadline".

"We have both met the two main parties to make clear that the UK and Ireland would do everything we can to work with them and the importance of reaching an agreement by June 29. It is my firm belief that with goodwill on both sides a resolution can be reached which builds on the progress made in the last round of discussions. My Government remains absolutely committed to a successful outcome from these talks, and we remain steadfast in our support for the Belfast Agreement and its successors."

Mr Varadkar, who voiced fears last week about the potential impact of a deal, said he was reassured by his conversation with Mrs May that London's approach would not undermine the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

"We spoke about the very important need for both governments to be impartial," he said.

Mr Varadkar said that restoring powersharing was particularly important with the start of the formal Brexit talks in Brussels.

"We think it is very important that Northern Ireland should have a unique voice at this very important time," he said. "Having an Executive up and running - an Executive that can speak for both communities in Northern Ireland - would be a big advantage for Northern Ireland."

His comments came as the first round-table session of the talks to restore devolution took place yesterday.

New Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, appointed by Mr Varadkar last Thursday, joined the meetings at Stormont Castle for the first time and pledged to "spare no effort" in attempts to re-establish the Executive. "I will do my utmost to support the parties in reaching an agreement which ensures that the integrity of the Good Friday Agreement is fully protected, that all of its institutions function effectively and fairly and that previous agreements are honourably implemented," he said.

"The people of Northern Ireland need devolved government working in the best interests of the whole community. There are 10 days within the life-time of the current Assembly to secure the necessary agreement."

Reform of the 'petition of concern' veto mechanism in the Assembly appeared to be among the key issues under discussion.

The DUP in particular has come under fire for use of the petition, which requires a majority of both unionists and nationalists before an issue is agreed.

Sinn Fein Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill said it is "one of the issues we are looking at".

Appearing before reporters without Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, Mrs O'Neill said her party wanted to find a deal and make the institutions work but people who voted for her party in the elections had not supported a return to the status quo.

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