Tánaiste committed to talks up to Christmas Eve to restore NI Assembly

Coveney opposes new Assembly poll as one ‘election too many’ for North

New Assembly elections would be "an election too many" for Northern Ireland, Tánaiste Simon Coveney has told the Dáil.

Answering questions about the ongoing Stormont talks to get the Executive and Assembly up and running again, he said that they had been discussing all the issues involved “for many months”.

“What we’re trying to do now is close it out, not have an endless continuation of that discussion through the Christmas period”.

The talks have until January 13th to reach agreement, before a deadline kicks in for the British government to call fresh Assembly elections.

Mr Coveney disagreed with Labour leader Brendan Howlin who suggested that "a fresh mandate might not be a terribly bad thing". Mr Howlin said that several of the 90 MLAs elected to the Assembly had opted out of politics.

He added however that “obviously it would be preferable to have institutions up and running and working right now”.

Mr Coveney said parties like the SDLP and Alliance had nothing to fear from an election but they recognised that people in Northern Ireland “don’t want this”. They have had two general elections and a European election and they needed a period of stable government, he said.

Committed

He told Fianna Fáil's Sean Haughey that the talks would continue beyond Wednesday and he was committed to work up to and included Christmas Eve to achieve a solution.

If that was not possible they would recommence early in the new year to make sure “we give the best possible chance” of getting a successful conclusion and avoiding “an election too many for Northern Ireland.

Mr Coveney pointed out that “sensible, middle-ground solutions” were required for the main issues of contention including language and cultural matters linked to identity. He did not think legacy issues could be resolved in these talks.

These legacy issues were a “painful, but necessary process”.

But he said there was a need to change the way the Executive and Assembly worked because the smaller parties were “really strong” about not going back into the Executive if their input and values and mandate are not respected.

The Tánaiste stressed however that the two larger parties recognised that and wanted a fully inclusive Executive.

He said they were trying to remain true to the spirit of the Belfast Agreement which does recognise that Northern Ireland has evolved over time.

“We are not trying to design some fundamental change in direction but recognising flaws in the way in which the institutions functioned before, that perhaps contributed to their collapse and trying to ensure that that is less likely to happen again in the future.”

Trust

He said what will maintain a steady Executive is trust between the parties.

All the parties are working hard to restore the Executive, he said.

“There isn’t any one or group of parties trying to deliberately frustrate the process. There is a real open mind trying to get a sensible foundation based on compromise and accommodation of other people’s views that I believe this time can ensure that we are not at another false dawn for a return to devolved government.”

Sinn Féin foreign affairs spokesman Sean Crowe said political leaders needed to demonstrate the political will to restore Stormont on a sustainable basis that guaranteed rights and equality for all.

He also said there had to be adequate financial commitment from the British government so that progress could be made on tackling under-resourced public services.

The Tánaiste said the Irish and British governments were looking at a number of projects they could work on together but he said the issue of policy and funding public services was a matter for the British government.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is a parliamentary reporter with The Irish Times

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