Time to talk in Northern Ireland
The main political parties in Northern Ireland have been invited to participate in political talks tomorrow at Stormont Castle, Belfast. In a shared approach, as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement, the Irish and British governments have agreed that this phase of talks will be best supported by an "intensive process to drive progress".
The talks have two objectives: to allow the political parties to reach an agreement on the formation of a new executive and to address the implementation of outstanding issues from previous agreements. Elsewhere last week, the British Prime Minister Theresa May's letter to the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, which triggered Article 50, contained specific reference to Ireland and the unique and special relationship between Ireland and the UK. It recognised Ireland's priorities, including the preservation of the Common Travel Area and avoiding a return to a hard border with Northern Ireland. It also emphasised the importance of the peace process. Following the triggering of Article 50, the European Parliament also reflected on these issues and identified Northern Ireland as one of only four initial priorities listed by Chief EU Negotiator Michel Barnier. Draft guidelines circulated by Mr Tusk also include very strong acknowledgement of Ireland's unique circumstances. This is to be welcomed, and it must be acknowledged as a diplomatic coup for the Government here.
However, the British government is moving forward with what was described in the Dail last week as the "historically destructive" Brexit process with no political leadership speaking for the people of Northern Ireland. This is an untenable state of affairs. It is incumbent on both the main parties in Northern Ireland, the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein, to engage meaningfully in talks this week to form a new executive following what were, in our view, needless elections in Northern Ireland. It is instructive that the so-called cash for ash scandal, ostensibly the reason for Sinn Fein's withdrawal from the executive, which precipitated the elections, has been referred to less and less in reports about negotiations. This has given rise to credible speculation that Sinn Fein is seeking to manipulate and exploit recent developments to create division in both parts of the island, and build support North and South.