Coveney: DUP ‘not unreasonable’ in seeking Stormont surety

Fine Gael figures propose supporting unionist in Seanad byelection in further olive branch

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney: DUP MP Sammy Wilson accused Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Mr Coveney of adopting a “cynical, aggressive, green and partisan” approach. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney: DUP MP Sammy Wilson accused Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Mr Coveney of adopting a “cynical, aggressive, green and partisan” approach. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

The Democratic Unionist Party has a reasonable expectation that the Stormont Executive will not be collapsed at times of extreme political stress between it and Sinn Féin, Tánaiste Simon Coveney has said.

In an interview with The Irish Times, the Minister for Foreign Affairs said the sustainably of the Northern Ireland institutions was a legitimate concern of the DUP.

The Stormont executive collapsed last January amid controversy over the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme that could cost Northern Ireland taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds.

Assembly elections followed but attempts to re-establish the Executive have failed since then. It is expected that the British and Irish governments will increase pressure on Sinn Féin and the DUP to reach an agreement in the New Year.

Sinn Féin is demanding an Irish language Act while the DUP has, Mr Coveney said, asked for reassurances that the Stormont institutions cannot be easily collapsed once more.

Tensions

The Cork South Central TD said this was not an “unreasonable ask from the DUP”, in comments that will be seen as conciliatory after tensions between the Government and unionists over Brexit.

“That is not an unreasonable ask from the DUP and it is one of the issues they are concerned about,” he said. “They want to make sure that the executive is sustainable into the future and dealing with difficult issues, that it can survive that, and be robust.”

He said the mechanism by which this could be achieved was a matter for Sinn Féin and the DUP themselves and is not “something that the governments need to impose”.

“It is not helpful of me to go into the detail of what is being discussed but I don’t think it is an unreasonable ask of the DUP to expect that there would be some accommodation of their concerns that this time the structures are more sustainable in terms of being maintained through difficult political debates.”

Mr Coveney believes there is a willingness from all parties to re-establish the institutions, which he said was particularly important given the continuing Brexit negotiations.

Unfortunate

He said some of the comments from the DUP in recent exchanges over Brexit were unfortunate. The DUP supports British prime minister Theresa May’s Conservative government in a confidence and supply agreement in Westminster and its assent was needed for last month’s phase one Brexit deal.

DUP MP Sammy Wilson accused Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Mr Coveney of adopting a “cynical, aggressive, green and partisan” approach.

“Our view is we didn’t want to get into a slagging match,” Mr Coveney said. “We didn’t do that, we didn’t respond to that.”

Meanwhile, some senior Fine Gael figures have floated the idea of the party supporting a unionist politician from Northern Ireland in an upcoming byelection in the Seanad.

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan raised the proposal in a recent meeting of Fine Gael Ministers.

It is understood Mr Flanagan argued that Fine Gael supporting such a candidate would be seen as a gesture towards the unionist community after Brexit tensions.

Sources said, however, that Mr Varadkar was non-committal to the suggestion and other Fine Gael figures were very sceptical about the idea.