North not having voice in Brexit talks a ‘crazy situation’

Coveney says under Belfast Agreement there can be no ‘British-only’ direct rule

Simon Coveney: he said it was unlikely an international talks mediator would be called in to move along the North talks process

Simon Coveney: he said it was unlikely an international talks mediator would be called in to move along the North talks process

 

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has described the fact that Northern Ireland does not have a voice in the Brexit talks as a “crazy situation”.

Mr Coveney met DUP, Alliance, SDLP and UUP delegations at Stormont on Tuesday, and had a phone conversation with Sinn Féin’s Northern leader Michelle O’Neill, to assess if there was any scope for breaking the current deadlock on restoring a powersharing executive.

The Alliance Party described the outlook for Stormont as “beyond bleak”.

Mr Coveney said the North could not function fully without an executive, and it was “madness” not to have a political voice for people, business and families in the context of Brexit.

“It is madness that yesterday I was spending hours speaking to key players from different European countries, talking about the future of Northern Ireland, what it might look like in different scenarios under Brexit, how the Border might function, how trade will function for Northern Ireland when it is outside of the European Union and how we facilitate a progressive response to that and there is no political voice for Northern Ireland.”

Direct rule

The Minister also said that under the Belfast Agreement there could be no “British-only” direct rule if the current round of talks failed, which was not a scenario he wanted to contemplate.

Mr Coveney said he believed there was grounds for optimism that a deal could still be done but that it was unlikely an international talks mediator would be called in to move along the process.

In response to Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams making another call for a Border poll in the next five years, Mr Coveney said it was a legitimate position to aspire to Irish unity but in the immediate and short term this comment was unhelpful.

Former Stormont finance minister Simon Hamilton MLA said the call for a Border poll was “destabilising”. He said the DUP’s priority was “delivering for Northern Ireland”, and that a “generous” offer Arlene Foster made last week to Sinn Féin about immediately restoring the Executive still stood.

Chaos strategy

Alliance Party deputy leader Stephen Farry said the call for a Border poll was feeding into the perception among some that Sinn Féin was pursuing a “chaos strategy”.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood agreed with Mr Coveney that the North needed a political voice to deal with Brexit, describing Britain leaving the EU as “the defining challenge of this generation”.

“Failing to use our institutions to fight a hard Brexit in Ireland will be an historic abdication of political responsibility,” he said.