Dublin calls for bilateral body rather than direct rule
UK and Irish ministers should use an intergovernmental peace process body to plot a way forward for Northern Ireland if devolution is not restored, the Taoiseach has said.
Leo Varadkar said he would urge the recall of the British Irish Inter-Governmental Conference (BIIGC) if a deal to revive powersharing proved elusive.
The bilateral body, a construct of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, brings together UK and Irish ministers to encourage cooperation on matters of mutual interest in Northern Ireland.
It last met in 2007.
Mr Varadkar said his government was opposed to a return to Westminster direct rule as it existed in Northern Ireland pre-1998.
While Sinn Fein has been calling for a greater Irish role in resolving the impasse, DUP leader Arlene Foster has dismissed the BIIGC as a “talking shop”.
Sinn Fein’s Pearse Doherty asked Mr Varadkar about the conference during exchanges in the Dail on Tuesday.
The Taoiseach said he had discussed the powersharing impasse with Theresa May at a summit in Sweden on Friday.
“As I have done at previous meetings, I said to Prime Minister May that the Irish government could not accept a return to direct rule as it existed prior to the Good Friday Agreement and that if Sinn Fein and the DUP failed to form an administration, the government I lead would expect the Good Friday Agreement to be implemented without them.
“That means convening the British-Irish Inter-Governmental Conference, as if nothing is devolved then everything is devolved to that conference.
“I indicated to her I would seek a meeting in the new year of the British-Irish Inter-Governmental Conference so British and Irish Ministers could meet to plot a way forward for Northern Ireland in the absence of the elected representatives in Northern Ireland being able to form an administration.”
His comments came amid DUP criticism of the Dublin administration’s stance on Northern Ireland over Brexit, in particular its rhetoric about the negative impact a hard border could have on the island.
Calls by senior EU figures and the Dublin ministers for bespoke customs arrangements for Northern Ireland, to enable the free-flow of goods across the Irish border, has angered the DUP, which does not want the region to be treated differently to the rest of the UK.
Earlier on Tuesday, Mrs Foster told the BBC that Mr Varadkar “should know better”.