Irish and British governments may have to make decisions for North – Coveney

Tánaiste says Government needs to repair its relationship with DUP following Brexit deal

Simon Coveney said it was  responsibility of Arlene Foster and  Michelle O’Neill to form a Government in Northern Ireland.  Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Simon Coveney said it was responsibility of Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill to form a Government in Northern Ireland. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

Tánaiste Simon Coveney has raised the prospect of the British and Irish governments making decisions for Northern Ireland in the absence of a functioning powersharing system.

The Northern Ireland Executive has not sat since January and negotiations between the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin on restoring it have failed to reach a conclusion.

Speaking on RTÉ’s The Week in Politics, Mr Coveney said it was the responsibility of the DUP’s Arlene Foster and Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill to find a way through the impasse and form a government.

He said the North “desperately needs their leadership right now”.

In the event a deal cannot be agreed, Mr Coveney said: “We have to look back to the Good Friday Agreement again, that is where the rules are set.

“Then there is the prospect of a whole series of other choices - from another election, to the triggering of Intergovernmental Conferences to make decisions on Northern Ireland.

“That is not where we want to be. That will cause tension. It will be a very frosty environment to make decisions in.”

Mr Coveney also admitted the Government needed to repair its relationship with the DUP.

Relations soured over the course of the recent Brexit negotiations and Mr Coveney accepts some work needs to be done to fix it.

Mr Coveney said: “I hope to be at the forefront in being involved in that... [I AM]already seeking a meeting with the DUP before the end of the year. If not, I assume, early in the New Year.”

‘Give hope’

Meanwhile, Ms O’Neill, Sinn Féin’s Northern leader, said she wanted “to give hope to people” that powersharing could be restored after the near year long hiatus. Dublin and London are expected to again try to push the DUP and Sinn Féin towards a deal to reinstate the Executive and Asembly in the new year.

Ms O’Neill said Sinn Féin was a party of dialogue. “I believe this can be done, but it can only be done if there is political will there,” she said. “Sinn Féin will not be found wanting in terms of re-establishing the institutions because we wholeheartedly believe in them.”

However, she blamed the standoff on the DUP, telling the BBC’s Inside Politics programme that blame for the absence of a powersharing administration “firmly falls at the feet of the DUP”.

“At the heart of the Good Friday Agreement was mutual respect and parity of esteem and that was a principle which the DUP have failed to take on board and look after all the citizens we’re elected to look after,” she said. “They’ve continued to block people’s rights, whether that be marriage rights, legacy inquest rights, whether that be language rights.”