Dublin will seek 'meaningful role' in North if powersharing efforts fail

British-Irish conference 'would not amount to joint rule' of Northern Ireland

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar: said he and British prime minister Theresa May would make another effort to promote agreement between the northern parties in the new year on re-establishing the powersharing institutions. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar: said he and British prime minister Theresa May would make another effort to promote agreement between the northern parties in the new year on re-establishing the powersharing institutions. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

 

The Government will seek to have the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference convened in the new year if there is no breakthrough at Stormont to reconvene the northern institutions, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

Speaking to journalists at a pre-Christmas press conference, Mr Varadkar said the intergovernmental conference would not amount to joint rule over the North, but would provide Dublin with a “real and meaningful involvement” in the North.

Mr Varadkar said he and British prime minister Theresa May would make another effort to promote agreement between the northern parties in the new year on re-establishing the powersharing institutions, which have been in abeyance for almost a year now.

If this failed, he said, “there are two options”.

“The first option is another set of elections, although it’s hard to see what outcome would arise from that that would put us in a better position. The second option is convening the British-Irish governmental conference, which would allow the two governments to implement the Good Friday [Belfast] Agreement in the absence of an assembly and executive in Northern Ireland, ” Mr Varadkar said.

Direct rule

He said that the agreement provides for matters that are not devolved to be dealt with by the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference “and that’s what we will seek”.

Dublin would not support direct rule from London, he said.

“So the alternative to the assembly and the executive being up and running is either a. an election or b. convening the British-Irish government conference and that’s what we’ll seek and I should point out that is what the Good Friday Agreement says.”

Asked if this would be a form of joint rule, Mr Varadkar said: “I wouldn’t use the term ‘joint rule’, because that’s not the term used in the Good Friday Agreement.

“The Good Friday Agreement speaks of a British-Irish governmental conference, which is not joint rule because obviously the legislative powers remain at Westminster, but it does involve real and meaningful involvement of the Irish Government. ”

‘Strained’ relations

Mr Varadkar conceded that relations were “strained” with the British government as a result of the recent Brexit negotiations.

“But we need to be grown-up about it. And we need to get on with it and try to get the best outcome for the Irish people.

“So even though relations are strained because of the different positions we’ve taken, they’re not bad. You know, I would speak with prime minister May probably every two weeks, and we do, I believe, have a shared and common objective which is to get the best outcome for our people, for her the best outcome for the United Kingdom, for me the best outcome for Irish people, both here in this state and in Northern Ireland.”