Flanagan raises concern over impact of snap election on North

Theresa May’s election call ‘shows disdain for Northern Ireland’, says SDLP leader

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood referred to the “ intense efforts to restore powersharing government to Northern Ireland” under way at present.  Photograph: Eric Luke

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood referred to the “ intense efforts to restore powersharing government to Northern Ireland” under way at present. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan has expressed concern that the snap UK general election will harm talks aimed at restoring Stormont powersharing.

Mr Flanagan said he raised the issue in a phone call with Northern Ireland Secretary of State James Brokenshire following the sudden announcement that the UK would go to the polls on June 8th.

Mr Flanagan said political parties would switch from negotiating to campaign mode.

“The Secretary of State told me that his intention, announced last week, remains unchanged — namely, to bring forward legislation at Westminster in the coming days which will include a provision to allow a Northern Ireland Executive to be formed in early May,” Mr Flanagan said.

“While this will legislatively facilitate the formation of an Executive, I am conscious of the political reality that all of the parties involved in the talks will now be competing in a general election and mindsets will inevitably shift to campaign mode.”

Mr Flanagan is due in Belfast on Thursday for renewed contacts with the political parties after the Easter deadline for a powersharing deal was lifted.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said Theresa May’s decision to call a snap general election in the midst of talks to restore powersharing showed “disdain” for Northern Ireland.

“From the beginning of her tenure as British prime minister she has shown very little but disinterest and disdain for this place,” Mr Eastwood said.

“It tells you all you need to know about Theresa May that she would call a snap Westminster election in the middle of intense efforts to restore powersharing government to Northern Ireland.”

Another Stormont ballot cannot be ruled out if a deal forging a devolved administration is not struck within days.

“As Theresa May seeks a mandate for a hard Brexit from an English electorate, people here have an opportunity to unite behind parties which have defended their will and sought to protect our values,” Mr Eastwood added.

Northern Ireland voted Remain by a majority of 56 per cent to 44 per cent, although some large mainly unionist areas opted for an exit.

Powersharing

Northern Ireland held Stormont polls twice in under a year as powersharing between the two biggest parties, the DUP and Sinn Féin, faltered.

In March a Sinn Féin surge saw the republican party under the leadership of Michelle O’Neill at Stormont emerge with just one seat less than the DUP.

Political rescue talks to restore devolved government are due to conclude by early next month.

If they are unsuccessful, Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire has to decide whether to call fresh Assembly elections or impose direct rule by ministers from London.

In the past electoral contests have polarised the fractious parties.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said: “The forthcoming election will be an opportunity for unionists to unite around a strong DUP that will advocate for them in parliament.”

Ms O’Neill said the Conservatives and its polices have been rejected by the people in the North in the past and will be again in this election.

“Sinn Féin is ready to contest this election and it will be an opportunity for voters to oppose Brexit and reject Tory cuts and austerity.”

–(PA)