Belfast Telegraph

British and Irish ministers to 'plot way forward' if no Northern Ireland power-sharing deal: Varadkar

'Everything devolved to British Irish Governmental Conference if no administration'

By Jonathan Bell

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said everything should be devolved to the British Irish Governmental Conference should Sinn Fein and the DUP fail to reach an agreement to restore power sharing in Northern Ireland.

Mr Varadkar told the Dail if there was no deal to restore the Stormont institutions in the coming weeks he would be seeking a meeting of the organisation so that both British and Irish ministers could "plot a way forward".

He was responding to Sinn Fein TD Pearse Doherty who told the Dail the Northern Ireland talks could not continue unless they were meaningful.

Mr Doherty said progress was only possible if the British Government honoured its commitments to an Irish Language Act, a bill or rights, marriage equality and funding for legacy issues.

"It is the job of the Irish Government to make sure [the British Government] honours them," he said.

Mr Doherty pressed the Taoiseach to call the British Irish Governmental Conference as the "logical next step under the Good Friday Agreement".

Responding the Taoiseach said: "We all have a role in making the Good Friday Agreement work. I hear Sinn Fein spokespeople setting the scene for the blame game and I think that is very disappointing.

"I would call on Sinn Fein and the DUP to come to an agreement to form a coalition government and do the right thing for the people of Northern Ireland."

Mr Varadkar said he met with Theresa May in Sweden and told her there could be no return to direct rule "as it existed prior the Good Friday Agreement".

"And if Sinn Fein and the DUP fail to form an administration then the government which I lead would expect the Good Friday Agreement to be implemented without them," he said.

"And yes that does mean convening the British Irish Governmental Conference.

"Because if nothing is devolved, then everything is devolved to the British Irish Governmental Conference."

He added: "I indicated to [Prime Minister May] I would be seeking a meeting in the new year of the British Irish Governmental Conference so that British and Irish ministers could meet to plot a way forward for Northern Ireland in the absence of elected representatives being able to form an administration."

The body consists of ministers from both British and Irish governments. It last met regularly during last period of suspension of the institutions between 2002 and 2007.

DUP leader Arlene Foster described it as a "talking shop".

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