Flanagan calls on DUP to show ‘leadership’ in talks with British
Minister for Justice in New York as part of Government St Patrick’s Day events
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said the DUP must ‘engage with others in order that solutions can be found’. File photograph: James Forde
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan has called on the DUP to show “leadership” as it embarks on key talks with the British government ahead of a crunch EU summit next week.
With British prime minister Theresa May’s government seeking to secure support in the House of Commons for her negotiated Brexit deal ahead of a further vote next week, the DUP is seen as a key player in securing sufficient parliamentary support for a deal. Negotiations are said to be intensifying between figures in the party and London ahead of a crucial few days in the Brexit process.
Speaking in New York where he was addressing a conference on Brexit, Mr Flanagan told The Irish Times that now is the time for the DUP to show leadership.
“It’s important that the DUP shows clear leadership in Northern Ireland which has been sadly lacking over the past number of years,” he said.
“It’s over two years since the people voted, and there are no institutions functioning in Northern Ireland. The parties have the primary responsibility here – of course the two governments have a role too – but the two parties have responsibility when it comes to this matter.”
Noting that he had worked constructively with the DUP in the context of the Stormont and First Step Agreement, Mr Flanagan said the DUP must “engage with others in order that solutions can be found”, adding “solutions can be found”.
He said the impact of Brexit could have an extremely negative effect on Northern Ireland.
“Independent reports on Brexit show that while there will be downsides for everybody, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, or of a so-called hard Brexit, the Northern Ireland economy will suffer greatly,” he said.
Mr Flanagan told the Understanding Brexit conference, taking place at the Harvard Club in New York, that the Irish Government believes “that the best way forward now is still to ratify the Withdrawal Agreement and to use the time and space provided by the transition period to begin exploring alternative arrangements”.
He also said the Government does not believe that sufficient support exists for a border poll that would result in constitutional change.
“Such a poll would only increase uncertainty and division at an already sensitive and difficult time,” he said.
“Our ambition throughout the Brexit negotiations has been to ensure that the Good Friday Agreement can continue to operate in all its parts after the UK leaves the European Union, and that the gains and benefits of peace for people North and South, and East and West, can be protected. It is as practical as that and that is where our focus needs to remain.”
Senator George Mitchell, the main architect of the Good Friday Agreement, and Congressman Richard Neal also addressed the conference which has been organised by Irish Central, former Ireland funds director Kieran McLoughlin and business and community stakeholders in the United States.
Recalling the leadership that political and community figures had shown during the Good Friday Agreement, Mr Mitchell urged both Britain and the European Union to show leadership in the coming days weeks.
“A hard Brexit is in no one’s interest especially in respect to the border between Ireland and N Ireland. The EU and the British government have repeatedly promised there will not be a hard border. . . that promise should be kept,” he said. He added that political figures “should not lightly make important public promises and when they do they should honour their promises”.
He said it was also in the European Union’s interest to agree a deal. Noting that the EU has made special arrangements with several countries, he said “if there is enough good faith and innovation on both sides it might be possible for them to agree to another special arrangement”.
IDA chief executive Martin Shanahan said it was important as Britain negotiates its departure from the European Union,“that we move to a new partnership that is as close as possible to the one that currently exists”. He was speaking as new figures from the IDA today showed that 70 individual investments into Ireland related to Brexit and an associated 5,000-plus jobs have been approved since the EU referendum of June 2016.