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Controversy over talks dismissed

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(Left to right) Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, First Minister Peter Robinson and Taoiseach Enda Kenny after a meeting of the North South Ministerial Council

(Left to right) Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, First Minister Peter Robinson and Taoiseach Enda Kenny after a meeting of the North South Ministerial Council

(Left to right) Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, First Minister Peter Robinson and Taoiseach Enda Kenny after a meeting of the North South Ministerial Council

Northern Ireland's leaders have dismissed controversy over the Irish government's role in new Northern Ireland peace talks as a frenzied "much ado about nothing".

Both Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness played down reported tension among some unionists about Dublin's part in resolving issues on parades, flags and the past.

Speaking at the latest North South Ministerial Council, First Minister and Democratic Unionist leader Mr Robinson said there was no issue as far as unionists were concerned.

"We have been around this course several times before and I note that before any talks begin there's almost a frenzy within the Press and some in politics as well to see how we can trip ourselves up so that we couldn't get to the stage of having talks," he said.

"Let's not talk ourselves out of talks.

"We've gone through the process before, we've had arrangements which have worked in the past."

Both the British and Irish governments earlier this week announced fresh round-table negotiations to resolve outstanding issues.

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All the Stormont parties are expected to take part, but there has been dissent from the smaller Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) about Dublin having a say in "internal" matters.

However, Mr Robinson pointed to a three-stranded approach - first advocated by former SDLP leader and Nobel peace laureate John Hume - as a model that worked in the past.

This allows for Stormont parties to hammer out a deal on Northern Ireland issues with the British government, engage with Dublin on cross-border matters as well as a third strand of talks towards agreement between London and Dublin.

"There isn't an issue as far as unionists are concerned," said Mr Robinson.

"I can't force Martin (McGuinness) to talk or not talk to someone and he can't do that to me either."

Mr Robinson said it was important to get down to the talks as there was "a very real danger" for the Northern Ireland institutions unless agreement is reached.

Sinn Fein's Deputy First Minister Mr McGuinness said UUP leader Mike Nesbitt had "unforgivably" failed to realise that the Irish government was present at all recent peace deals.

"As far as I'm concerned this is much ado about nothing," he said.

"Let's not be fixated by those who before the talks begin try to make it difficult for the parties in the talks."

Earlier this week, Mr Nesbitt said his party was putting the Secretary of State Theresa Villiers "on notice" there would be no official role for any foreign government in the internal affairs of Northern Ireland.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the Irish government has always been a co-guarantor of the peace agreements and the Northern Ireland institutions.

"There are always tensions about these kind of talks," he added.

"It is not the first time that both governments and all the parties in Northern Ireland were involved at sitting round the tables for discussions that have gone on for a long time."

Mr Kenny said Dublin will support any move to fully implement the Good Friday Agreement and other peace process deals.

Separately, Mr Robinson commended the Irish government for taking "hard decisions" that he says led to a turnaround in the republic's economy.

Amid debate about implementing cutbacks in Northern Ireland, he said: "I commend this government here in the Irish Republic which has been prepared to take difficult decisions.

"We can all take decisions we get applauded for, when we are building new facilities, but when there is a time of real financial restraint then difficult decisions have to be taken."


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