Wednesday 19 September 2018

Taoiseach calls for redoubling of efforts to restore devolution

Leo Varadkar also moved to reassure unionists who have been angered by his government’s approach to Brexit.

By By Michelle Devane, in Washington DC, Press Association

The Taoiseach has indicated the UK and Irish governments might table their own proposals as a way to break the powersharing deadlock at Stormont.

Leo Varadkar, who called for redoubling of efforts to restore devolution after Easter, suggested that approach could be a means to forge a deal between the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein.

Fourteen months after powersharing collapsed, the two parties remain at loggerheads on a range of cultural, social and legacy disputes

In a wide ranging speech at an event in Washington DC to mark the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, the Taoiseach also moved to reassure unionists who have been angered by his government’s approach to Brexit.

He acknowledged some comments might have been viewed as unwelcome or intrusive.

But he insisted he and his government did not have a “hidden agenda”.

Mr Varadkar said he was determined to work with the UK Government to chart a way ahead to restore powersharing at Stormont.

He said efforts to forge a deal between the DUP and Sinn Fein should be intensified after Easter.

“The next few weeks will rightly see a focus on Brexit,” he said.

“I will meet Chancellor Merkel in Berlin, and then travel to the European Council in Brussels where the EU will seek to make further progress in our discussions with the UK Government.

“After that, I believe the period after Easter should see a redoubled effort on the part of both Governments and all of the parties in Northern Ireland to seek agreement on the restoration of the institutions.

“It is my view that this will require very close co-operation and leadership from the British and Irish Governments.

“It may be that again the Governments will have to table our own proposals to help the parties break the deadlock.

“That is how we made progress in the past.

“If that is the case, the Irish Government will play a full, active and balanced role in that process.”

Senator George Mitchell was the keynote speaker at the event at the Library of Congress.

Issuing a direct messages to Northern Ireland unionists, Mr Varadkar said: “I know that you are concerned – perhaps worried – maybe even angry, at recent political developments.

“I recognise that recent statements and actions by Irish nationalists, including the Irish Government, about Brexit have been seen as unwelcome or intrusive.

“If that is the case, I want to make it clear that it certainly was not our intention.

“I want to repeat that we have no hidden agenda.”

The Irish government’s efforts to maintain a soft border, in particular its demand that Northern Ireland continues to align with many EU regulations, has angered unionists who fear it is veiled attempt to push a united Ireland agenda.

Mr Varadkar told the anniversary event that the Good Friday Agreement has come under attack from some people with narrow political agendas who do not understand Ireland and its history.

Former Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, who also addressed the event, said power sharing in Northern Ireland may not be restored in the medium term.

Mr Adams said the Good Friday Agreement was a defining moment in Ireland’s recent history but it was not a settlement.

“It never pretended to be,” Mr Adams said.

“It is an agreement on a journey. Not the destination.”

Last month, Sinn Fein and the DUP were locked in negotiations over the resumption of the institutions but failed to reach a deal.

“The DUP leadership chose at the last minute to walk away. So, for now there is no Assembly or Executive,” Mr Adams said.

He reiterated the Sinn Fein stance that there cannot be a return to British direct rule and added the best option was for the return of the political institutions.

“It might well be that the power sharing institutions and all-Ireland political architecture may not be restored in the medium term,” Mr Adams said.

Press Association

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