Belfast Telegraph

London and Dublin may have to make decisions for Northern Ireland, says Coveney

By Staff Reporters

Ministers will have to go back to the Good Friday Agreement if power-sharing cannot be restored in Northern Ireland, the Republic's Foreign Affairs Minister has warned.

Simon Coveney made the comments during an interview he gave on RTE's the Week In Politics show.

He said that if Sinn Fein and the DUP cannot agree to resurrect the Executive, the Good Friday Agreement needed to be "looked back at", because "that was where the rules were set".

Mr Coveney said the absence of a power-sharing Executive at Stormont was part of the problem of Brexit.

He added: "Then there is the prospect of a whole series of other choices - from another election, to the triggering of Intergovernmental Conferences to make decisions on Northern Ireland."

"That is not where we want to be.

"That will cause tension.

"It will be a very frosty environment to make decisions in... so we all have a responsibility, in a practical sense, to find a way forward."

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has already called for a meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference to be held in the new year.

The conference is a mechanism within the Good Friday Agreement designed to address Northern Ireland matters if the Assembly is suspended. It has not met since 2007.

In a wide-ranging interview, Mr Coveney also said that the Irish Government's relationship with the DUP needs to be repaired

He said he wanted to meet Northern Ireland's largest unionist party before the end of the year, and blamed tensions around agreeing phase one of the Brexit deal for the deterioration.

Speaking on RTE yesterday, Mr Coveney said: "Because of the tension around trying to get the deal we felt was needed for everyone on this island, yes, of course there is repair work to do."

The DUP has accused Mr Varadkar of "politicking" over Brexit after its 10 pro-Brexit MPs - whose votes in Parliament are supporting Theresa May's minority Government - scuppered an initial deal between the British Government and EU.

Reacting last night to Mr Coveney's remarks, DUP MLA Peter Weir, a former Stormont minister, said via social media: "So Simon Coveney expresses need to repair relationships with unionism and the DUP, and in the same interview makes a pitch for joint authority in the absence of a deal, yet fails to see the contradiction.

"Wonder where he is going wrong!"

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein's Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill said yesterday that she was hopeful that functioning devolved government can be restored in 2018.

But the Sinn Fein MLA also laid the blame for the collapse of the institutions in January this year at the door of the DUP, Sinn Fein's partner in any restored Executive.

Speaking to yesterday's Sunday Politics show on BBC Northern Ireland, Mrs O'Neill said: "At the heart of the Good Friday Agreement was mutual respect and parity of esteem and that was a principle which the DUP have failed to take on board and look after all the citizens we're elected to look after.

"They've continued to block people's rights, whether that be marriage rights, legacy inquest rights, or language rights.

"These are not silly side issues.

"These are fundamental rights. We believe that the Good Friday institutions are right for the people here, that they will serve the people well - but only if they work for all of the people.

"The blockage - in terms of establishing the institutions - falls at the feet of the DUP."

Mrs O'Neill hit out at the record of her prospective Executive partners, saying she wanted to bring hope to the people of Northern Ireland.

"The DUP have reneged on their agreements made both publicly and privately," she said.

"The DUP have failed to deliver rights for all citizens.

"I want to give hope to people, because I believe that this can be done."

She added: "But it can only be done if there is political will there."

Belfast Telegraph

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