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Tory pact with DUP would not necessarily risk peace process insists Irish Foreign Minister

By Richard Wheeler and Kevin Doyle

A Conservative and DUP agreement would "not necessarily" undermine the peace process, the Republic's Foreign Minister has said.

Charlie Flanagan said he has raised the matter with Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire.

Mr Flanagan was asked about suggestions that any Conservative deal with the DUP would undermine Westminster's impartiality as a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement.

He told ITV's Peston on Sunday: "Well, not necessarily the case. Of course, it remains to be seen what the nature of that deal is.

"But this is an issue I did address the evening before last with Secretary of State James Brokenshire.

"I look forward to meeting with him again tomorrow if his appointment is reaffirmed, but yes I think it's an important issue that you raise - the objectivity of both governments, and both governments working strictly in accordance with our legal responsibilities under the Belfast Agreement, the Irish government as co-guarantor, indeed the British Government as co-guarantor."

Mr Flanagan added the EU member states are "ready to roll" when it comes to Brexit talks.

These are due to start within days although they could be delayed given the UK's political uncertainty. Mr Flanagan said: "I'm conscious of the fact that this clock is ticking. We're a year now since the referendum.

"We lost some time over the last seven weeks during the General Election campaign.

"Europe is ready to start these negotiations. Ireland is ready to sit with our 26 EU colleagues and commence the negotiations because uncertainty is the enemy of stability and uncertainty is the enemy of business."

Asked if he would be against a delay, Mr Flanagan said: "We're ready to roll. My understanding from all of my EU colleagues is that they're ready to roll.

"It's been said that Europe wishes to punish the UK. I see no evidence of that, I see no intention of that."

Mr Flanagan is facing a battle to keep his position in Leo Varadkar's new Cabinet with Housing Minister Simon Coveney vying for the key Brexit post.

Mr Coveney is understood to have expressed an interest in the job during his meeting with the incoming Taoiseach, in the aftermath of the Fine Gael leadership contest. However, it is understood that Mr Flanagan, who has held the post since 2014, has met with Mr Varadkar in recent days to make a pitch for why he should not be moved.

Mr Flanagan is understood to have briefed the new Fine Gael leader on his work in Northern Ireland and the relationship-building that has taken place with other European ministers since last year's Brexit vote.

Frances Fitzgerald is also understood to be interested in the role but is an outsider.

Although Mr Coveney appeared all but guaranteed whatever ministry he chose, his decision to target foreign affairs is problematic in light of recent events.

"Anybody who thinks they can just parachute into Northern Ireland talks or deal with other foreign ministers right now is optimistic at best," said one minister.

Another source said the DUP and Sinn Fein would "have a field day" and "throw curveballs" to test a new minister.

The job is set to create a major headache for Mr Varadkar who is due to announce his new Cabinet on Wednesday.

Belfast Telegraph


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