Monday 23 September 2019

'The excuses need to end' - talks on Northern Ireland power-sharing to resume as 'Lyra's death cannot be in vain'

Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley and Irish foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney speaking to the media at Stormont (Brian Lawless/PA)
Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley and Irish foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney speaking to the media at Stormont (Brian Lawless/PA)
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

TÁNAISTE Simon Coveney said the "excuses" for not seeking to re-establish the Northern Ireland institutions need to end, adding: "We owe that to the memory of Lyra".

He was speaking after the Irish and British governments agreed to make renewed efforts to bring back the Northern Executive and Assembly in the wake of the murder of journalist Lyra McKee.

Mr Coveney and Northern Ireland Secretary of State Karen Bradley announced that the talks are set to begin on May 7.

The Tánaiste said that the "two years and counting" since the collapse of the Executive in a row over a renewable heat incentive scheme is "leaving far too much wide open space for other kinds of voices that don’t believe in democracy but that peddle hate and fear".

He said the return of the Northern Ireland institutions won't solve all of the problems but would give people "a place to come together to discuss real issues… try to find solutions together".

Mr Coveney added: "What we want and I think what every decent thinking person wants now in Northern Ireland is to see us take that spark of determination that I think we’ve all felt in the last few days and to see if we can build a momentum from that that can do something real and positive".

He said there is a need for "new thinking" about how to restart politics in Northern Ireland and people have "no patience fort talks that go on and on and in the end go nowhere.

"We’ve had enough of that. It needs to be different this time."

He said he believes the parties in the North can fins a sustainable way forward but added: "I recognise that we are in for a few difficult weeks ahead".

Mr Coveney said there will be some that say that now is not the right time for talks.

"From my experience it never seems to be the right time in Northern Ireland.

"Whether it's local government elections, European government elections, a marching season...

"There’s always a pressure and a reason to say it can’t be done now.

"The excuses need to end. We owe that to the memory of Lyra in particular, but to many others too."

In a joint press conference in Belfast, Ms Bradley said the "sickening" shooting of Ms McKee by Dissident republican group the New IRA had "deeply shocked everyone across the world".

"Lyra was a brilliant, talented journalist, a role model for many, who always fought to make Northern Ireland a better place," said Ms Bradley.

"Since Lyra's death, communities across Northern Ireland and the political spectrum have come together, united in condemnation at this murderous act.

"They have delivered a clear message - the people responsible for this act of terrorism have absolutely nothing to offer Northern Ireland and have no place in society."

Ms Bradley said the security situation in Northern Ireland had been "transformed" and the province was now a "dynamic, modern, outward-looking" place.

But she added: "There remain small numbers of dissident republicans who remain intent on killing.

"Our challenge is to ensure that we continue to work for peace for the whole community."

Ms Bradley said: "Lyra symbolised the new Northern Ireland and her tragic death cannot be in vain.

"All of us must take inspiration from what Lyra achieved in her life and work even harder to make Northern Ireland a brighter, more peaceful and prosperous place for everyone."

They will aim to "quickly re-establish to full operation the democratic institutions of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement".

This comes after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British Prime Minister Theresa May said they want to see progress being made towards political peace in Northern Ireland.

They said in a joint-statement: "In coming together with other political leaders in St Anne's Cathedral to pay tribute to Lyra McKee, we gave expression to the clear will and determination of all of the people of these islands to reject violence and to support peace and a better future for everyone in Northern Ireland.

"We also heard the unmistakable message to all political leaders that people across Northern Ireland want to see a new momentum for political progress.

We agree that what is now needed is actions and not just words from all of us who are in positions of leadership," Mr Varadkar and Mrs May said.

"We have agreed to establish a new process of political talks, involving all the main political parties in Northern Ireland, together with the UK and Irish Governments, in accordance with the three stranded process.

"The aim of these talks is quickly to re-establish to full operation the democratic institutions of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement - the NI Executive, Assembly and North-South Ministerial Council - so that they can effectively serve all of the people for the future."

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald has said that she hopes that new talks to restore power-sharing in Northern Ireland will be the vehicle for progress to be made.

Ms McDonald this evening gave her reaction to the confirmation by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British Prime Minister Theresa May that the talks will begin on May 7, outside her Dublin city centre office.

“Obviously whether or not there is the real will to resolve the issues, I think will become apparent very quickly,” she said.

“I hope that everybody takes the same position as us, and that they seize on this opportunity now to resolve the issues and to ensure that equality is the order of the day.

“This is a big chance for all of us. I want us to avail of this chance,” she said.

“I think we need to take the view that the equality issues need to be resolved. Of course, the best possible channel for that resolution is talks between the parties. “

However, she said if that is not possible “we need to remind ourselves that the two governments do have a responsibility, and they also have the mechanism through the Intergovernmental Conference to intervene in a way that’s entirely appropriate and enshrined with the Good Friday Agreement, because the bottom line here is the Good Friday Agreement.

“The bottom line here is that citizens have to have their rights recognised, protected and vindicated in law, and that should be a common objective for all of us I believe,” she said.

She also stated: “I really hope given what has happened in Derry, given the huge public reaction and public grief for Lyra McKee, given the fact that we haven’t had any institutions for over two years, given the fact that we face very many challenges and opportunities, I really hope now that people can seize this.

“For a very long time now, we have been saying to the governments, ’this stale mate can’t continue’”  Ms Mc Donald said that progress needs to be made.

“I hope that these talks now are the vehicle for that progress, for positivity, to vindicate equality. I am hopeful that can happen.  If it can’t happen, it will become evident very quickly and in those circumstances, the governments have an absolute obligation to step in and to ensure that peoples’ rights are recognised and protected.”

  • With additional reporting by the Press Association

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