Stormont instability is driving conversation on Irish unity says Sinn Fein MP John Finucane as UUP leader Doug Beattie says DUP will return after May elections

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​Political instability at Stormont is driving the conversation on Irish unity, Sinn Fein MP John Finucane has said.

But DUP MLA Emma Little-Pengelly has said her party will take time on restoring the Stormont executive to strengthen the institutions.

Meanwhile, UUP leader Doug Beattie has predicted the DUP would return to Stormont after May's council elections.

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Stormont is currently suspended due to the DUP's ongoing protest against post-Brexit trading agreements.

Emma Little-Pengelly (DUP)Emma Little-Pengelly (DUP)
Emma Little-Pengelly (DUP)

Mr Finucane told RTE that ongoing political instability may be contributing to a desire for constitutional change.

"People are asking about how we can have a better health system on the one island, how we can have a better education system, how we can increase and build prosperity, and all of that weaves through the conversation on Irish Unity," he told RTE.

"And I do think that will be a significant change that we will see in the years to come."

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Meanwhile, Mr Beattie and Ms Little-Pengelly clashed on whether returning to Stormont or opposing the Windsor Framework is the best course of action.

Ms Little-Pengelly said the DUP was taking its time in restoring devolution to strengthen the executive.

"The reality is a house built on sand cannot stand, it will be weakened, and therefore we have to get this right," she said.

"Of course, we want devolution to be restored, it has to be on the right terms.

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"It has to be on terms and foundations that's going to work because we do have a huge piece of work to do."

Mr Beattie contested Ms Little-Pengelly's assertion and argued that the Windsor Framework could be changed while the executive is operational.

"I suppose this is where me and Emma disagree," he said.

Mr Beattie added: "I think we're both strong unionists and we want Northern Ireland to work as part of the United Kingdom, I think we're absolutely on the ground with that."

He went on to state the UUP position, saying: "We believe, however, that the only way to achieve this, that is to challenge the issues around the Windsor framework which do not work and also to realise the opportunities of the Windsor Windsor framework... is to be in the devolved government."

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Mr Beattie also said he believed the DUP would return to Stormont after May's council elections.

"What I think is they will go back in because I think they realise that it's good for unionists to be in and have a voice and be able to challenge the government," he said.

Ms Little-Pengelly responded: "People do want stable government here. I suppose what we disagree on is the balance of that and how that can be done."

Mr Beattie reiterated that having a stable government would help to diminish conversations on constitutional change.

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"If we focus on the economy, an economy which will give us good health service, good infrastructure, give us homes, give us jobs for our young people," he said.

"If we can create that for the people here in Northern Ireland, then nobody will vote for change.

"So that's what I want to focus on, but to be able to do that we need to have government."

Fine Gael Minister Simon Coveney was speaking on the legacy of the Good Friday Agreement and said trust between all parties had to be rebuilt.

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"In many ways that's been the hugely frustrating thing of the last number of years, that much of that trust has been unravelled and we need to put it back together," he said.

"My generation of politician has a responsibility to ensure that this piece survives and is, when necessary, rebuilt."

Mr Coveney also commended the representatives from the unionist parties for their expressed desire to reinstate Stormont.

He said: "I'm encouraged to hear people like Doug Beattie and Emma Pengelly speak the way they have, wanting to see the role of government functioning again in Northern Ireland, and we need to work with them and John Finucane and all the different parties in Northern Ireland to make that happen in the weeks ahead."