Two governments did not step back from North talks, Tánaiste insists
Role of two governments on this occasion was to provide support, says Gilmore
Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore: “I described the failure to reach agreement as a step not taken rather than a step back. I still take that view.”
He insisted in the Dáil that “the Irish Government was directly involved in this process”. He told Sinn Féin’s Seán Crowe he had to remember “this process was initiated in Northern Ireland” by the First and Deputy First Ministers.
“It was always intended that these would be talks between the parties in Northern Ireland. The role of the two governments on this occasion was to provide support to that, which we did by keeping in regular contact,” Mr Gilmore said.
Mr Crowe had described the “optics” of the talks as wrong and highlighted suggestions by commentators that the two governments “were stepping back” from the talks.
Mr Gilmore said he had been in the North when the talks closed and was in close contact with Richard Haass and Meghan O’Sullivan.
He said the two governments were co-guarantors of the agreement and one of their responsibilities was to provide continuing support. Mr Gilmore added: “I described the failure to reach agreement as a step not taken rather than a step back. I still take that view.”
Discussions broke up without agreement on New Year’s Eve. Three of the five parties in the Northern Executive supported the proposals outlined by the two Americans who chaired the talks.
Fianna Fáil foreign affairs spokesman Brendan Smith said there had “never been a breakthrough in Northern Ireland without the direct hands-on involvement of the two sovereign governments”.
He noted the Tánaiste “seems to have given some urgency to this issue when it was concluding. I would have thought that when the Northern Executive decided to set up a panel of parties to address this issue, it would not have been opposed to the two sovereign governments taking a hands-on approach to dealing with the difficult issues.”
Mr Gilmore insisted “it is not true. . . that the Government became involved at the end of this process”. He said he and Ms Villiers met the First and Deputy First Ministers last year when the flags protest was in a very difficult situation.
Independent TD Maureen O’Sullivan expressed concern that release “licences are revoked without reasons being given, people are left on remand for three and four years and draconian conditions are proposed when releases are considered”. Such a situation “does not contribute to the process we are discussing”.
Mr Gilmore said the prisoner issue was not directly involved in the talks. He had raised it a number of times, but added “we have seen some very worrying activity in recent months”.