Belfast Telegraph

Varadkar regrets absence of N Ireland at British Irish Council

The Taoiseach was speaking at the 20th anniversary of the council in Manchester.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar spoke at the BIC meeting (Danny Lawson/PA)
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar spoke at the BIC meeting (Danny Lawson/PA)

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has lamented the “unfortunate” absence of Northern Ireland at the British Irish Council.

Speaking on Friday at the 20th anniversary of the council in Manchester, Mr Varadkar said the entire group present were disappointed that representatives from Northern Ireland could not attend due to the lack of a functioning executive in Stormont.

Leaders and ministers from the BIC member administrations, including the UK and Irish governments, the Scottish and Welsh governments and representatives from Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man met for a number of meetings and engagements without their Northern Ireland counterparts.

No one political party can speak for Northern Ireland. Leo Varadkar

“One of the things that we all here found very unfortunate and very sad is that we are marking the 20th anniversary of the British Irish Council (BIC) here today and it’s an institution that has worked well: Scotland is here, Wales is here, Ireland, the United Kingdom, the Crown dependencies but Northern Ireland is absent,” Mr Varadkar said.

“This institution was established as part of the Good Friday Agreement and there’s a sad irony that the only people who are missing are the representatives of Northern Ireland.”

Referencing the deadlock between Stormont’s two biggest political parties, the DUP and Sinn Fein, Mr Varadkar called for a compromise for the benefit of the people of Northern Ireland.

“No one political party can speak for Northern Ireland,” he said.

“Nor does any one political party can say it has the right to speak for Northern Ireland.

“Only the Northern Ireland Executive Assembly can do that, that is why we are so committed to seeing those institutions up and running.”

New power-sharing talks sparked by the murder of journalist Lyra McKee in April have been ongoing, aided by both the Republic of Ireland and Westminster governments, without any major breakthroughs.

Minister for the Cabinet Office David Lidington added that Northern Ireland Secretary of State Karen Bradley had intended to be at the BIC meeting but decided to stay in Northern Ireland as talks continue.

“All I can say at the moment is the talks are still ongoing, and the two governments continue to work very closely together,” he said.

“I think it’s fair to say there has been some decent working relationships re-established between the leading members of the different political parties in NI through this talks process.”

It has been more than two years since the collapse of the Stormont executive amid a scandal over a botched renewable heating initiative.

Talks to restore the institutions have previously broken down over issues such as the Irish language and marriage equality.

PA

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