Belfast Telegraph

Backstop is not a trap, says Coveney

Fine Gael politician Simon Coveney, who serves as Tanaiste speaks to delegates at Queen's University on the subject of Brexit. Pic by Peter Morrison
Fine Gael politician Simon Coveney, who serves as Tanaiste speaks to delegates at Queen's University on the subject of Brexit. Pic by Peter Morrison

By Michelle Devane

The Irish border backstop is not a trap to ensnare the United Kingdom or Northern Ireland, the Tanaiste has told an audience in Belfast.

Simon Coveney also said the insurance mechanism was not designed to bring about constitutional change.

Mr Coveney said: "We don't want the backstop to be some kind of trap in which to ensnare and hold the UK or Northern Ireland.

"Nor do we want the backstop as some kind of stepping stone to changing the constitutional status of Northern Ireland."

Mr Coveney made the comments during a speech at Queen's University on the second anniversary of the collapse of powersharing in Northern Ireland.

The Irish foreign affairs minister said the Dublin government did not want to see the backstop invoked at all.

"The backstop is there to ensure that in no circumstances can there be a hard border - something that nobody wants," he said.

"We have a collective responsibility to avoid that outcome. Legal clarity is therefore required."

If ratified, Mr Coveney said the Withdrawal Agreement would pave the way for "positive" and "ambitious" discussions on the future relationship.

He added that the Irish government shared the UK's desire for a deep and comprehensive future relationship agreement that avoids a hard border to be decided by the end of 2020.

Addressing the lack of a functioning government in the region for two years, he said: "The ongoing failure, not just to restore the Assembly and Executive to full operation, but even to come together again and restart negotiations, is unacceptable."

Mr Coveney said it was very important that the people of Northern Ireland should have a voice through their elected representatives during the Brexit negotiations.

"This is exactly one of the reasons we need the Assembly and Executive up and running again - and to be working well," he said.

"We shouldn't underestimate the impact that Northern Ireland's leaders speaking with one voice on key concerns could have. And if the backstop were ever to be used, their voices should be heard at that stage too."

He added: "We need the parties to come together and talk now about how to restore an Assembly and Executive together, as well as fully functioning North-South institutions.

"It's not easy but it's been done before and I think there is a recognition it will need to be done again."

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