Coveney hopes DUP can ensure a soft Brexit after Tory deal

Sinn Féin decision to abstain at Westminster not easy to understand, says Fine Gael Minister

Minister for Housing Simon Coveney hopes that the DUP will be able to make the case for a soft Brexit given the party's decision to do a deal and keep the Conservatives in power in Britain.

Mr Coveney acknowledged that there was a lot of uncertainty following the general election in the UK. The Tories lost 12 seats and its overall majority, but Mr Coveney lamented the SDLP’s loss of three seats which means there will no Irish nationalist voices in Westminster.

"The DUP, while they are supporting Brexit, are also supporting a soft Brexit and no Border on the island of Ireland. That is their stated position so, from that point of view, it is helpful," said Mr Coveney.

Sinn Féin's decision not to abstain from Westminster and not represent the views of the people of Northern Ireland on Brexit was a matter for Sinn Féin, he said. He found it difficult to comprehend this, but respected it was part of Sinn Féin's platform when going before the people.

“That is a matter for Sinn Féin. I do think that, in a democracy, it is a strange position to stand for election in order not to take your seat in your parliament. That has been the historic position for Sinn Féin. And that is still their position.”

"I listened to Gerry Adams this morning and I think in the context of Brexit, it is a difficult position to understand given how the peace process has moved forward and the Good Friday Agreement, the principle of consent, all the things that reinforce the relationships now on the island of Ireland."

Mr Coveney said he had to respect the fact that Sinn Féin got a mandate standing on an abstentionist ticket. But equally it highlighted the importance of the Irish Government engaging in "the Brexit conversation" with Britain and people in Belfast.

Time of the essence

Mr Coveney said that it was imperative, given that Sinn Féin were not taking their seats at Westminster that the Northern Ireland Assembly was re-established as quickly as possible so as to allow the views of those opposed to Brexit be articulated throughout Brexit negotiations.

“We need to get an assembly back up and running in Northern Ireland as well. That may prove more difficult now given the result and the fact that the more moderate parties have been squeezed in the context of that result.

“We need to keep working with all parties in Northern Ireland to get a functioning assembly up and running again so we have a full representative position on Brexit coming from Northern Ireland from the assembly. That is impossible at the moment and we need to work to try and make it possible.”

Mr Coveney acknowledged that the SDLP and the Ulster Unionists were the big losers in the general election in Northern Ireland with the loss of all their seats. But he refused to accept that there wasn't support for and a need for moderate opinion in the North.

“Well, I don’t think it (moderate opinion) is gone when you look at the assembly elections. It certainly wasn’t gone and certainly in these elections for Westminster, Sinn Féin and the DUP have squeezed the moderates out.

“But I listened to Alasdair McDonnell this morning and when he was asked about the future of the SDLP, he said if the SDLP wasn’t here we would have to create them because there is a need for a moderate voice for Northern Ireland in both the nationalist and unionist sides.”

The government needs to work with all parties in the North to “try and understand what drives them” to ensure that a hard won peace process is protected and strong links are developed and maintained across the island in the face of the threat of Brexit, he added.