Belfast Telegraph

Unionists react as Varadkar says Dublin expects to have 'real and meaningful' say on Northern Ireland should efforts to revive Stormont fail

UUP leader Robin Swann has hit back at the Taoiseach's comments that Dublin would expect to have "real and meaningful involvement" in Northern Ireland if efforts to restore Stormont powersharing fail.

Mr Varadkar's insistence that his government must have a say in Northern Ireland's internal affairs should the negotiations fail has infuriated unionists.

The British and Irish Governments are planning fresh efforts to reinstate the Assembly in Belfast - but Mr Varadkar has warned that time is running out.

UUP MLA Robin Swann said on Friday: “I recently advised the Irish Foreign Minister to step away from the microphone if he wants to repair relationships with unionists following some of his recent comments.

“Now it would seem that Leo Varadkar is showing signs of over-excitement as Christmas approaches and has said that the Irish government would expect to have ‘real and meaningful involvement’ in Northern Ireland if efforts to restore Stormont fail.

“Let me be very clear once again, because apparently the message is not getting through to some in Dublin. There is nowhere in the Belfast Agreement that permits joint authority or joint stewardship. Articles 2 and 3 are gone and the consent principle is in place.

“Rather than try to pressurise the UK Government or unionists as to what should happen in the event that talks to restore Stormont are unsuccessful, Mr Varadkar should focus his efforts on Sinn Fein, who are the real stumbling block to progress.

“If Leo Varadkar really wants ‘real and meaningful input’ in Northern Ireland then perhaps he should let Fine Gael field candidates and stand for elections in Northern Ireland.”

The DUP's Jeffrey Donaldson told BBC Good Morning Ulster: "It would be a fundamental breach of all the agreements we have reached

"Matters internal to Northern Ireland are a matter for the UK government and NI parties alone."

It will be a year on January 16 since the late Martin McGuinness sparked an election in protest at Arlene Foster's role in the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal.

A series of deadlines set by London for the re-establishment of power-sharing have passed without significant progress, leading Mr Varadkar to say there are now "two options".

"The first option is another set of elections, which is an option, although it's hard to see what outcome would raise from that that would put us in a better position," the Fine Gael leader said.

"The second option is convening the British-Irish Governmental Conference, which would allow the two governments to implement the Good Friday Agreement in the absence of an Assembly and Executive in Northern Ireland.

"So essentially the Good Friday Agreement provides for matters that are not devolved to be dealt with by the British-Irish Governmental Conference, and that's what we will seek."

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