Simon Coveney: Next British PM will not ignore NI stalemate

Tánaiste says British government will focus on getting Stormont back up and running

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has played down suggestions that whoever wins the Tory leadership contest and becomes British prime minister will be so focused on Brexit that they will ignore trying to resolve the Northern Ireland stalemate.

Mr Coveney said that he expected whoever wins the Tory leadership contest, Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt, will remain committed to ensuring a deal can be reached among the parties in Northern Ireland to restore the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive.

“I think it’s a responsibility for all of us that Northern Ireland remains a big priority – Northern Ireland hasn’t had its government for over two and a half years and there are consequences to that for ordinary people and I think the parties are very much aware of that.

“That’s why we are all working together to try and ensure that we get the devolved institutions up and running again and I think a new British prime minister, whoever it may be, will be committed to that too,” said Mr Coveney.

He said that the Irish government had been working very quietly and diligently with the British government to get the Stormont institutions back up and running and he expected either Mr Johnson or Mr Hunt to get a full briefing upon taking up office on these bi-partisan efforts.

"We've been working very hard and very quietly on getting the Northern Assembly up and running for the past 12 weeks, I've been virtually in Belfast three days a week with the exception of the week in the build up to the 12th July."

"We are working with all parties and all party leaders are constructive and trying to make this work and the British government has been supportive of that and I've been working very closely with (Northern Ireland Secretary) Karen Bradley on that."

Asked about the fact that Mr Johnson has appeared to show little interest in Northern Ireland over the course of his political career, Mr Coveney defended the Tory frontrunner and said he had no doubt but that he appreciates the importance of restoring devolution to Stormont.

“Boris Johnson is a very intelligent man – I know him reasonably well because he was British foreign secretary while I was Minister for Foreign Affairs so we met quite a number of times – he came to Ireland and we had a two hour meeting on the challenges we all face here.”

Mr Coveney said he was confident a deal could be done to reach agreement among all the Northern Irish parties to get Stormont up and running again but he refused to be drawn on how long this might take or what sort of timeline he envisaged for such a move.

Asked specifically if Mr Johnson could act as an independent broker in Northern Ireland given his dependence on the DUP for support, Mr Coveney said it was a matter for whoever wins the Tory leadership if they wished to renegotiate the confidence and supply deal with the DUP.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times