Belfast Telegraph

Flanagan implores Northern Ireland leaders to build on past decade of progress

By Brian Hutton

Dublin's Foreign Affairs Minister has urged Northern Ireland's leaders to reflect on the 10th anniversary of devolution ahead of talks to restore government.

Charlie Flanagan said the restoration of devolved power at Stormont on May 8, 2007 was an achievement that can be recalled with a sense of satisfaction by all who played a part.

"In the 10 years since restoration, all parties linked to the peace process have had to work through a number of difficult challenges and testing moments," he said. "It is all the more important, then, that the cumulative achievement of that decade of devolved and representative government for Northern Ireland be acknowledged.

"Over the last decade, the devolved institutions of the Good Friday Agreement have delivered significant and lasting steps forward for Northern Ireland and its people."

Mr Flanagan said recalling this achievement should encourage all political parties to ensure agreement is reached in the talks aimed at restoring a power-sharing executive set to resume at Stormont next month.

"The Irish government will continue to play its part, working with the British government and each of the political parties, to support the formation of an executive that operates on the basis of partnership and equality and delivers good government for all the citizens of Northern Ireland," he added.

In May 2007, five years of direct rule ended after DUP leader Ian Paisley - later Lord Bannside - and Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness took office at the helm of the Stormont Executive.

Stormont had collapsed in 2002 after allegations of a Sinn Fein spy ring at the heart of government.

But 10 years ago, the new First and Deputy First Ministers were famously pictured laughing together - something that would define their surprisingly close relationship and earn them their 'Chuckle Brothers' nickname.

The relationship between Lord Bannside's successor, Peter Robinson, and Mr McGuinness was frostier, but major hurdles were ultimately overcome or set aside.

However, after the collapse of Stormont in the wake of the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal, there has been little sign of progress in resurrecting the institutions.

Mr Flanagan said May 8, 2007 saw "an achievement that can be recalled today with a sense of satisfaction by all who played a part".

He also hailed the devolution of justice and policing powers from Westminster to Stormont in 2010.

"The formation of a multi-party power-sharing Executive headed by the late Ian Paisley and the late Martin McGuinness as First and Deputy First Ministers, required determination and leadership by all of the political parties and was achieved with intensive support by both governments as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement," he said.

"Restoration brought to an end a period of several years of direct rule in Northern Ireland, and allowed the more representative, power-sharing Executive to govern in Northern Ireland, accountable to the Assembly and to the people."

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