Urgent need to have Assembly and Executive restored in Northern Ireland

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Speaking in Dáil Éireann on the eve of the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights March in Derry I called again for the Irish and British Governments and the Political Parties in Stormont to have intensive engagement and achieve, without further delay, a restoration of the Assembly and Executive in Northern Ireland.

Thursday, 4th October 2018 – Oral Questions

  1. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the outcome of the most recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the British Foreign Secretary and the political parties in Northern Ireland in relation to the urgent need to have the Assembly and executive restored; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40305/18]

Deputy Brendan Smith

It is most disappointing and scandalous that the Stormont Assembly and Executive remain in lock-down at a critical time in this country’s history and at a critical time in determining the future of our neighbouring island. Has the Minister had any indication in his discussions with the British Secretary of State and political parties in Northern Ireland that they are trying with urgency to resume the talks, bring them to a successful conclusion and have the assembly and Executive restored to do a job they were elected to do by the people in the assembly election?

Deputy Simon Coveney

I propose to answer Questions Nos. 10, 27, 28 and 32 together.

Since the assembly elections of March 2017, the Irish and British Governments, as co-guarantors of the Agreement, have worked tirelessly to support and facilitate the parties in their efforts to form a new power-sharing Executive. Unfortunately, to date it has not proved possible to reach an agreement on the formation of an Executive, despite intensive engagement. The absence of the Executive means that the North-South Ministerial Council cannot meet.

I am currently engaging with Secretary of State Bradley on how both Governments can most effectively secure the effective operation of all of the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement.

I met the Secretary of State in Dublin on 17 September and we will meet again in Belfast on Monday next, 8 October. We have been in contact with all of the political parties to hear their views on how the two Governments can best support a way forward to get the institutions up and running again. All parties have reaffirmed their commitment to operating the devolved institutions and have provided views on their key concerns and issues.

In the period ahead, a new political process is required to get beyond the current impasse and secure the necessary agreement between the parties on operating the devolved institutions again. I do not underestimate the way to go in achieving that, but I firmly believe that a resolution is possible and that the calls from across all sections of the community in Northern Ireland for the devolved institutions to operate will be heeded.

The Government will continue to do everything in its power, in accordance with its responsibilities as a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, to secure the effective operation of all of the institutions of the agreement.

Deputy Brendan Smith

I welcome the fact that the Minister will meet the Secretary of State next Monday on this very important issue. He said he would be in touch with the political parties. Can I assume there are no arrangements, at this stage, for the Minister and the British Secretary of State to have a formal engagement with the political parties represented in Stormont? It is important to send a clear message to all the people on this island and in Britain that we will not tolerate any abandonment or unpicking of any element of the Good Friday Agreement, as has been suggested by a political leader in recent days. The international agreement came about as a result of an agreement between two sovereign governments. It had multiparty support and was lodged with the United Nations. We need the implementation of all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement. Does the Minister believe urgency is being accorded to the issue of these talks by either the political parties in Northern Ireland or the British Government?

Deputy Simon Coveney

The relationship between the DUP and the British Government is a matter for both parties. There is a confidence and supply arrangement and we have nothing to do with it. Nevertheless, issues relating to Brexit, all the issues in the Good Friday Agreement and any issues relating to the absence of devolved government in Northern Ireland at the moment are a matter for all the political parties there. We engage with all parties, on Brexit and on trying to find a way forward, and we have done so throughout this process. I accept that there has been growing frustration with the political inertia in Northern Ireland. We have to be honest with ourselves and admit that the cloud that is Brexit hangs over all our relationships at the moment and has made it more difficult to get a focus on the re-establishment of devolved institutions in recent months. Ironically, the opposite should be the case because Northern Ireland needs a unified voice from an all-party Executive right now in the context of Brexit. It would be beneficial for Northern Ireland and for all involved if that were the case because the views, the concerns and the fears, some of them legitimate, of one party alone cannot determine an approach to finding credible and acceptable compromises and solutions on the Brexit questions.

I gave the House a detailed explanation of what happened last February when we almost had an agreement on the basis of setting up the Executive again before it unravelled. It is the job of the two Governments, Irish and British, to put in place structures and a context that will allow the parties to work again in an atmosphere of trust, resulting in the Executive being re-established. We share the sense of urgency felt by others in this House about the need to do this.