Coveney denies ‘meddling’ in UK politics at Intergovernmental Conference
Conference aimed at restoring powersharing in Stormont after its collapse in January 2017
Tánaiste Simon Coveney will travel to London for the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times
Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has denied that Dublin is “meddling” in UK politics by taking part in talks at Westminster on the restoration of power-sharing government in Northern Ireland.
Former first minister of Northern Ireland David Trimble warned Wednesday’s meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference in London comes close to breaching principles enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement that Dublin will have no role in internal UK politics.
However, Simon Coveney insisted the talks with Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley and Cabinet Office minister David Lidington will not touch on decision-making in Northern Ireland, and instead on protecting the structures for devolved government to take place.
Mr Coveney told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It is not meddling for two governments that are both co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement to try to ensure that that agreement works and that is what we are trying to do here.
“Decisions that are being made in Northern Ireland are a matter for the devolved government or the UK Government, that is true.
“But we are not talking about devolved decision-making in Northern Ireland today, we are talking about the structures that can enable a functioning executive there that can bring normality back to Northern Irish politics.”
Mr Coveney said he is “very aware and very cautious when it comes to the role of the Irish Government in Northern Ireland”, and respects the concerns expressed by unionists over the Intergovernmental Conference being convened for the first time in over a decade.
Sinn Féin and the SDLP have long been calling for the conference’s re-establishment to inject fresh impetus into the stalled political process in Belfast.
But unionists have been wary of handing too much influence to Dublin and dismissed the gathering as a “talking shop”.
Mr Trimble said the meeting is “reaching the point of breaking” the principle set out in the Good Friday Agreement that the Irish Government should have no role whatsoever in the internal politics of the UK.
The former Ulster Unionist Party leader told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme it is unacceptable for Irish ministers to be involved in discussions on the restoration of Stormont.
“There has been pressure from Dublin to try to change the character of the inter-governmental conference in a way that would not be acceptable to unionists and probably not acceptable to the British Government either,” he said.
“I don’t regard this as a helpful situation. It’s likely to make matters worse.”
The Conference, which gives the Irish a consultative role on non-devolved issues affecting Northern Ireland, last met in 2007 and its return has proved controversial.
When it was last called security was a major part of its remit, but those powers were later devolved to Stormont.
The Government will be represented by Mr Coveney and Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan.
Power-sharing crashed in January 2017 after a bitter row between the DUP and Sinn Féin over a botched green energy scheme.
The impasse later widened to include more traditional issues of contention, such as the Irish language, LGBT rights and how to handle to legacy of the Troubles.