Unionists have slammed the Irish government’s involvement in the announcement of a fresh set of talks designed to salvage devolution – with one MP urging Dublin to “butt out”.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on Friday issued a joint statement with Prime Minster Theresa May declaring that an agreement has been reached to establish a new round of talks on May 7.
This was followed by NI Secretary Karen Bradley appearing alongside Irish deputy leader Simon Coveney at a press conference at Parliament Buildings.
The announcement came two days after the funeral of journalist Lyra McKee, who was shot dead by dissident republicans.
At her funeral in St Anne’s Cathedral, Catholic priest Father Martin Magill challenged politicians as to why it had taken the murder of the 29-year-old to unite them.
In their joint statement, Mrs May and Mr Varadkar said the new process of political talks would involve “all the main political parties in Northern Ireland, together with the UK and Irish governments, in accordance with the three-stranded process”.
DUP leader Arlene Foster welcomed the news and said her party “would not be found wanting” in any talks process.
But she hinted that her party was not prepared to roll over to Sinn Fein’s demands, adding: “Anyone who thinks agreement can be reached through a one-sided wish-list being implemented is not rooted in reality.”
Speaking to the News Letter ahead of the announcement, DUP MP Ian Paisley said Dublin should “butt out” of Northern Ireland’s affairs if it wants to see power-sharing successfully restored at Stormont.
The North Antrim MLA warned that the optics of having Irish government front and centre during yesterday’s announcement could “set a bad tone” for the talks process going forward.
“I have no doubt that Mr Coveney is the type of man who would take great pleasure in trying to wind people up about this,” he added.
“He needs to judge if he wants to get the optics wrong. Does he want these talks to succeed or fail? If he wants them to succeed he should really butt out.”
Meanwhile, UUP MLA Doug Beattie slammed the NI Office handling of the announcement, stating that the Irish government appeared to know more about the talks process than the NI political parties.
He told the News Letter on Friday morning that his party leader, Robin Swann, had not been contacted by Mrs Bradley prior to the announcement.
“We found out this information second hand from Irish media, and that is really disappointing,” he added.
“The Irish government seems to know what is happening before Northern Ireland political parties, and that is something that seriously has to be looked at.
“Dublin seem to be getting more information than we are, and I think that is not right.
“The NIO really need to look at how they disseminate information because it is not a good start to this new talks process.”
In a statement, Mr Swann said: “I hope that these talks are undertaken in a more responsible way than the initial announcement which was leaked to a broadcaster in the Republic of Ireland rather than inform the parties that are participating.
“Trust needs to be built and that wasn’t a good way to start.”
He added that progress would only happen if there is “genuine engagement” from the two largest parties.
“The UK government cannot continue to appease the politics of intransigence,” he continued.
“They cannot continue to allow Sinn Fein to set the terms for talks.”
TUV leader Jim Allister said issues relating to the internal affairs of Northern Ireland “should include no role for the government of the Republic of Ireland”.
He added: “David Trimble for all his faults refused to engage with the Irish government when strand one issues were discussed during the Belfast Agreement.
“In October 2014 Peter Weir rightly said that ‘No self-respecting unionist will be present in any meeting to discuss internal Northern Ireland business where a seat at the table is given to the Irish representatives’.
“Why does a prime minister in an arrangement with the DUP at Westminster think it is appropriate to issue such a statement?”
Mr Allister also branded the prospect of a new round of talks as “nothing more than a sticking plaster exercise”, adding that “fundamental democratic reform” of the power-sharing system was required.
“I see no evidence that the parties which formed the last Executive have any desire to move away from a system which can be held to ransom by those who cannot even bring themselves to say the words Northern Ireland much less bring us good government as part of the United Kingdom,” the North Antrim MLA added.
“For republicans Stormont was only ever a staging post on their road to a united Ireland.
“For that basic fundamental reason devolution which cannot operate without their involvement in an Executive will never be stable or long-lasting.”