The unionist parties have explained their position on Dublin’s role in the Stormont talks.
The News Letter asked the DUP and Ulster Unionist Party what was their understanding of the Republic of Ireland government in the negotiations, and their reaction to that.
We asked two questions:
1. Do you know what exactly the role of the Irish government is in the current round of talks aimed at restoring the Executive (are they invited as observers, participants, co-chairs, etc)?
2. What is the basis for involving the Irish government at all, and have you any concerns about it?
The Ulster Unionist leader, Robin Swann MLA, replied: “The Ulster Unionist Party’s discussions with the Irish government will be firmly on the basis of the three stranded approach and will not be allowed to stray beyond that. That is what we have done in the past and will continue to do so in the future.”
He added: “The Irish government have outstanding questions to answer on dealing with the past. So far we have received less than satisfactory answers so we’ll keep asking the questions until we do.”
The DUP did not respond.
The Irish foreign minister Charlie Flanagan was at Stormont Castle on Monday to meet the Northern Ireland secretary and political parties, as he has been repeatedly during the talks.
Of the three “strands” in the Good Friday Agreement, the first – Strand One – provides for an Assembly and Executive to govern the Province. It makes no mention of a role for the Irish government.
Strand Two allows for the creation of a North/South Ministerial Council, to consider “matters of mutual interest” between the devolved Northern Ireland government and the Republic.
The third strand sets out the creation of two institutions – a British-Irish Council, plus a forum called the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference (to talk about non-devolved NI matters).
TUV leader Jim Allister MLA said the current talks process appears to be solely a Strand One matter, “so I don’t see why he [Mr Flanagan] is there at all”.
Meanwhile, Mr Swann criticised nationalist demands for an independent talks chair.
“Sinn Fein have to realise that any posturing over the UK government’s role in the talks only sets a precedent should they themselves ever enter government in the Republic.”
He added: “Any futile pursuit of an independent chair will only hinder progress being made before the June 29 deadline.”