Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil row shatters Dáil co-operation on North

Tánaiste Simon Coveney and FF leader Micheál Martin clash on Stormont strategy

Stormont talks: Simon Coveney said Micheál Martin “doesn’t understand what is going on ”. Photograph: PA

Stormont talks: Simon Coveney said Micheál Martin “doesn’t understand what is going on ”. Photograph: PA

 

The collapse of talks to resuscitate the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly has led to harsh exchanges between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, shattering the convention that Northern affairs and the peace process should not be a point of political contention in the Republic.

Yesterday in the Dáil, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said the Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin, was “unhelpful” and “doesn’t understand what is going on ”.

Last night Mr Martin reiterated his criticisms of the Government’s approach to the North and told The Irish Times that “bipartisanship doesn’t mean silence”. He said the Tánaiste’s comments were “attempting to distract from the issues”.

House tradition

Mr Coveney made his comments in the Dáil after the Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty had strongly criticised the Fianna Fáil leader. “We have a tradition in this House, particularly between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, of supporting and helping each other, regardless of who is in government, in the context of protecting the fundamentals of the Good Friday agreement and of looking after our responsibility towards people north of the Border,” Mr Coveney said.

“If Deputy Martin has an issue with how we are taking on and performing those responsibilities he should talk to us about it, as opposed to tweeting within the hour of hearing the DUP’s statement yesterday, trying to criticise two Governments which are working in partnership to try to bring about devolved government again in Northern Ireland.”

The Fianna Fáil leader had criticised the “neglect and detachment” of the British and Irish Governments in their approach to the peace process and the Belfast Agreement institutions. He said the Government was guilty of “naivety” and “inexperience” and had “probably not considered the import of their actions”.

“Constructive suggestions”

Last night Mr Martin said Fianna Fáil had been pointing out the shortcomings in the Government’s approach since 2012, and was making “constructive suggestions”. But he was especially critical of the Government for allowing relations with London on the North to deteriorate. “There is no disagreement on the fundamentals of the Good Friday agreement,” he said. “We were the architects of it, with others. We are conscious of it, we are mindful of it, we are protective of it.”

Both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in opposition have traditionally been careful about criticising the Government on Northern policy, recognising the importance of a united view in Dublin. But Mr Martin has been privately critical of the approach to the North adopted by Fine Gael-led Governments, first under Enda Kenny and now under Leo Varadkar, and he has been increasingly willing to be critical in speeches and Dáil contributions in recent months. He has frequently accused both Governments of being too hands-off, at a time of deteriorating relations between Sinn Féin and the DUP.

Senior Fianna Fáil sources were indignant at the Tánaiste’s remarks. “They’ve been trying to get the Northern parties to stand on their own two feet,” said one. “But it clearly hasn’t worked. The idea that we are a problem is laughable.”