Foreign Affairs | Update on discussions with parties in Northern Ireland
To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs the extent to which he continues to have discussions with all parties in Northern Ireland, with a view to early restoration of the Assembly and resolution to the Northern Ireland Protocol; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
– Bernard J. Durkan T.D.
For ORAL answer on Tuesday, 31 January, 2023.
The full implementation and effective operation of all of the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement, including the devolved power-sharing institutions provided for under Strand One and the restoration of the North South Ministerial Council, is of upmost importance to the Government.
The refusal by one party to nominate a Speaker and to allow the formation of an Executive is a denial of the mandates given to other parties in last May’s Assembly elections, as well as impeding the provision of much needed services to the people of Northern Ireland.
In my contacts with the Northern Irish political parties and with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Chris Heaton-Harris, I have highlighted the importance for the people of Northern Ireland of a functioning Executive and Assembly.
I have spoken with and met with the Secretary of State on a number of occasions in recent weeks, by telephone on 20 December 2022 and in person on 12 January 2023 and again at the meeting of the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference on 19 January. Each time we discussed the importance that both governments attach to the full functioning of the institutions provided for under the Good Friday Agreement. We will remain in close contact.
In all of my meetings with the Secretary of State I have also raised the Irish Government’s deep and fundamental concern with the British Government’s Legacy Bill. The Bill, if implemented, would not be compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights and would damage reconciliation efforts in Northern Ireland. I have made clear to the Secretary of State that this Bill is a unilateral move away from the Stormont House Bill that is not supported by political parties, civil society, or victims and their representatives in Northern Ireland. It is also contrary to the United Kingdom’s international human rights obligations.
I am in regular contact with the Northern Irish political parties with a view to working towards the restoration of the Assembly and of the Executive. I spoke with most party leaders by telephone on 9 January 2023. In all of my calls with the party leaders, I reiterated the importance that this Government places on the restoration of a functioning Executive. I plan to meet with party leaders in Belfast later this week.
I am conscious that without an Executive the North-South Ministerial Council cannot meet. While much of the current focus is on the Strand One institutions, there is no hierarchy of institutions across the three Strands of the Good Friday Agreement. To underline the importance I attach to Strand Two, I visited the North South Ministerial Council Secretariat in Armagh earlier this month as part of my first visit north in this role.
I am deeply concerned that the NSMC has been disrupted in recent years and has not met in Plenary Format since July 2021. No positive agenda is served by this disruption. In the absence of regular NSMC meetings, the two Administrations on the island are not having the important conversations that we should be having to address shared challenges and opportunities.
With regard to the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, I welcome the continued positive engagement between Commission Vice-President Šefcovic and British Foreign Secretary Cleverly. It is encouraging that the EU and UK have agreed to continue work together to find joint solutions in response the practical concerns raised in Northern Ireland around the Protocol.
It is important now that we give the EU and the UK teams the space needed to deliver comprehensive and sustainable solutions for people and businesses in Northern Ireland.
I am hopeful that positive progress in EU-UK talks can provide the momentum for the restoration of an Executive. However, I want to be clear that the majority of people across Northern Ireland believe that the Executive should be fully functioning regardless of what happens with the Protocol.
The Government will continue to work closely on a North/South and East-West basis in support of the devolved power-sharing institutions in Northern Ireland and the full implementation of all of the Strands of the Good Friday Agreement and as well as successor agreements.
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