The UK government is continuing to rebuff an Irish government plan to break the powersharing deadlock in Northern Ireland, the Taoiseach has said.
Leo Varadkar said his proposal for the two governments to undertake a joint initiative to push for a breakthrough – potentially involving them tabling their view of a compromise deal to Stormont’s rowing parties – was not supported by counterparts in the Northern Ireland Office.
Mr Varadkar’s comments in the Dail make clear that Dublin and London are now very much at odds on how best to resurrect negotiations to save devolution.
The Taoiseach believes the two governments should draw up the outline of a potential agreement and present it to the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein as a basis to restart the floundering talks process.
However, Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley has said she will not back an initiative that involves an attempt to “impose” a deal on the parties.
Attempts by the DUP and Sinn Fein to strike their own deal have so far failed, with the last round of talks ending in acrimony in February.
Mr Varadkar outlined the difference of opinion between Dublin and London as he fielded Taoiseach’s questions in the Dail on Tuesday.
... we are not giving up - we’ll continue to persist until we have the Assembly meeting and have those institutions operating as they should beTaoiseach Leo Varadkar
“The Irish government has proposed a joint initiative by the two governments – our government and the UK government – working together, perhaps producing a joint paper and using that as a basis to encourage the two main parties, the DUP and Sinn Fein, to come together and form an executive,” he said.
“As things stand we don’t have agreement from the British government to do that.
“But we are not giving up – we’ll continue to persist until we have the Assembly meeting and have those institutions operating as they should be.”
Northern Ireland has been without a properly functioning powersharing government for 16 months, due to the bitter standoff between the two largest parties, the DUP and Sinn Fein.
A row that broke out over a botched green energy scheme, and widened to encompass long-standing disputes such as the Irish language and gay marriage, shows no sign of resolution.
After negotiations collapsed in angry circumstances in February, the parties traded claim and counter-claim about whether a proposed deal had been in the offing.
Sinn Fein claimed DUP leader Arlene Foster had signed off on a deal before backing out in the face of an internal party revolt – claims she vehemently denied.
Amid the fallout, documents exchanged by the parties during negotiations were leaked to sections of the media – incidents that served to only sour political relations further.