To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will provide an update on the current political situation in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
- Darragh O'Brien.
Following the Assembly election, I spoke on 5 March with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and the Taoiseach spoke with Prime Minister May. Both Governments agreed on the need for intensive engagement to address outstanding issues and commitments to ensure the early establishment of an Executive. As co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement, both Governments have a role to play in supporting the effective operation of the devolved institutions, and in upholding both the letter and the spirit of the Agreement as a whole, in the interests of all in Northern Ireland.
In this context I am representing the Government in the ongoing intensive talks in Belfast. The talks have two objectives. Firstly, to allow the political parties to reach an agreement on the formation of a new Executive. Secondly, to address the implementation of outstanding issues from previous Agreements. These current discussions structured around a shared approach put forward by both Governments follow on from talks last month where it did not prove possible for the political parties in Northern Ireland to reach agreement on the establishment of a power-sharing Executive before the statutory deadline of 27 March.
Overall there is encouraging progress being made in this renewed phase but I am under no illusions about the challenge of resolving the core issues that remain outstanding. Serious issues remain to be resolved - including those which were to the fore before the collapse of the last Executive and during the election campaign. However with resolve and determination from all the parties, and support and encouragement from the two Governments, I believe a successful outcome is possible.
As part of my engagement with the Secretary of State and with each of the parties in the discussions in recent days, I have strongly emphasised the critical importance of forming a new Executive so that Northern Ireland’s interests can be effectively represented, as part of the process of the EU-UK negotiations which are about to commence. I very much hope that the new Executive will be in place as soon as possible so that it can directly represent the interests of the people of Northern Ireland in these negotiations which are of major significance.
I will continue to participate in the discussions in Belfast this week as required, working with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the political parties to see the power-sharing Assembly and Executive restored to effective and harmonious operation. As a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement the Government is determined to uphold the principles of the Agreement and protect its institutions.
While time is extremely tight, I remain hopeful of a positive outcome to the discussions, and strongly urge all parties to work intensively and cooperatively, to secure the power-sharing institutions of the Good Friday Agreement, and ensure effective devolved government, as was so evidently voted for by the people in Northern Ireland in the recent election.