New foreign affairs minister sets date for Northern visit

Charlie Flanagan held ‘constructive’ meeting with Gerry Adams in Dublin

 Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan , receiving the seal of office from President Higgins and Taoiseach Enda Kenny at a ceremony in Aras an Uachtarain. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan , receiving the seal of office from President Higgins and Taoiseach Enda Kenny at a ceremony in Aras an Uachtarain. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Mon, Jul 21, 2014, 10:01

The first Fine Gael Minister for Foreign Affairs since 1987 will travel to Northern Ireland next week.

Charlie Flanagan was promoted from the Minister for Children position in the recent Cabinet reshuffle. He expects to meet key political figures in Belfast next Wednesday.

“There are urgent issues to discuss...It’s important that the parties return to the table. With that in mind I’m anxious to have face-to-face meetings with the party leaders,” he said.

On the evening he was appointed, Mr Flanagan spoke to Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers, who survived the reshuffle in Britain, and the pair agreed to meet at a mutually-convenient date.

He has also had conversations with First Minister Peter Robinson of the DUP and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin.

He met Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams in Dublin last week and described the encounter as “constructive”.

He also spoke to SDLP leader Alisdair McDonnell and hopes to make contact with UUP leader Mike Nesbitt.

“I’m in listening mode. It’s my intention to help and assist in any way to ensure that the terms and conditions of the Good Friday Agreement are progressed and advanced in the interests of peace.

“This would allow families to get on with their daily lives without fear or tension.”

Mr Flanagan said he was relieved that the marching season was passing off peacefully and that no serious incidents had been recorded the weekend before last.

Mr Flanagan has commitments in Brussels this week. Tomorrow (Tuesday) he will meet fellow European Foreign Ministers at the Foreign Affairs Council to discuss the situation in Gaza and Ukraine, while a General Affairs Council takes place on Wednesday.