Tánaiste to test North’s political waters

Gilmore to meet Robinson, McGuinness and Villiers for Belfast Agreement anniversary

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore speaking in Belfast where he was joined by  Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers to host a discussion with young people to mark fifteen years of progress since the Good Friday Agreement. Photograph: PA

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore speaking in Belfast where he was joined by Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers to host a discussion with young people to mark fifteen years of progress since the Good Friday Agreement. Photograph: PA

Mon, Apr 29, 2013, 14:04

Tánaiste Éamon Gilmore travels to Belfast today for talks with the Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers and to attend events to mark the 15th anniversary of the Belfast Agreement.

He will also meet First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

Mr Gilmore will use his contacts to assess how the main parties sharing power at Stormont have fared following the recent political instability and to encourage further progress.

Relations between the joint heads of the Stormont Executive have been strained as a result of the dispute over the flying of the Union flag at Belfast City Hall and subsequent street protests, some of them violent.

However the two men made a determined show of unity last week when they appeared together at the site of the former Maze-Long Kesh prison outside Lisburn, Co Antrim to announce multi-million pound redevelopment plans. They said they agreed on politically sensitive plans to retain one of the prison’s H Blocks where 10 republican hunger strikers died in 1981.

Addressing a DUP spring conference at the weekend, Mr Robinson told his party it must be prepared to work with everyone for everyone and that there was no point re-fighting battles of the past.

“Six years after we restored devolution and entered the Executive, some have questioned our commitment to this process,” he said. “The real question is not whether we want to be in government or have to be in government; the fact is the people of Northern Ireland need us to be in government.”

The DUP could depend on Catholic votes in 50 years time to maintain the union with Britain, he added.

Ms Villiers has also denounced street violence and sectarianism, claiming it blackens Northern Ireland’s image internationally. She said it was particularly depressing that some of those involved in rioting in the aftermath of the flags dispute were not born when the Belfast Agreement was concluded in 1998.