Political debate in Northern Ireland becoming ‘quite aggressive’ – Coveney

Minister says DUP needs to be ‘realistic’ about what was possible with Protocol

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

The political debate in Northern Ireland has become “quite aggressive” in recent weeks, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said.

“The idea that some in the loyalist community would be blaming the Dublin government as they call it, for all the woes linked to Brexit and the Protocol simply isn’t accurate,” he said.

“We are the ones that are now looking for the compromises and the pragmatism to help ensure the Protocol can actually be implemented, in a way that is more acceptable.” he said.

“The idea that we are effectively demonised by leaders within loyalism is really unhelpful,” he told RTÉ Radio’s Saturday with Justin McCarthy show.

“It would be helpful if political leaders in Northern Ireland who represent unionists and loyalist communities would come out and clarify that there is no threat to officials or politicians from the Irish Government, ” he said.

“The idea that there would be a signal that an Irish Government presence is no longer welcome in Northern Ireland, I think is a huge backwards step,” Mr Coveney said.

“The challenges don’t go away because the blame game becomes more aggressive, if anything they get worse.” he said.

DUP party officers are expected to meet as early as Saturday to agree a timetable for choosing a new party leader, following several weeks of major internal turmoil in the party.

Jeffrey Donaldson is widely regarded as the most likely to succeed Edwin Poots, who announced on Thursday night he was standing down less than five weeks after his election, in response to a backlash within his party.

Media reports on Saturday called into question the position of Paul Givan as First Minister, following Mr Poots’ resignation.

Mr Coveney said the nomination of any new First Minister by the DUP could not be dependent on demands from unionists for any changes to the Protocol agreement, the deal which governs Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit status.

“Now there is going to be leadership change in the DUP, and it is really up to that new leader, when they are appointed, to ensure they have the team that they want in Stormont. ” he said.

“You can’t bargain around the Protocol for a First Minister to be installed in Northern Ireland,” he said.

“The EU isn’t going to get boxed into a situation where they have to give concessions, in a way that’s inconsistent with international law, to facilitate the nomination of a First Minister in Northern Ireland,” he said.

The DUP needed to be “realistic” about what was possible, adding the party had had “a terrible number of weeks”.