Northern Ireland news

Simon Coveney: North 'may be most vulnerable to bad Brexit deal'

Secretary of State James Brokenshire with the Republic's minister for foreign affairs Simon Coveney. Picture by Simon Graham, Northern Ireland Office
David Young, Press Association

THE north is particularly vulnerable to the impact of a bad Brexit deal, the Republic's new foreign affairs minister has warned.

Newly-appointed Simon Coveney stressed the importance of getting an agreement that reflected the north's circumstances as he took part in talks to restore power-sharing at Stormont yesterday.

Mr Coveney said the start of Brexit negotiations in Brussels yesterday underlined the urgent need to get devolution back up and running in Belfast.

"I think it's fair to say that Northern Ireland is perhaps the most vulnerable part of Europe to a bad Brexit deal should that happen," he said.

Mr Coveney said he would highlight the particular issues facing Northern Ireland - in regard to the peace process and cross-border movement - when he met the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier in Luxembourg today.

But he said those arguments also needed to be made by a serving first and deputy first minister at Stormont.

"I think there is a sense of urgency here that Northern Ireland needs its own voice, in the context of Brexit in particular, as well as so many other issues that need to be resolved, and that without that voice people in Northern Ireland will be disadvantaged in a major way and will be essentially relying on others to make the case for them," he said.

Mr Coveney met all five main political parties and Secretary of State James Brokenshire in what was his first involvement in the process since replacing Charlie Flanagan at the head of the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin last week.

The participants have until June 29 to reach a deal that would see devolution returned or they face the prospect of direct rule being reimposed from Westminster.

Mr Coveney said several "core issues" still stand in the way of an agreement but he said he did not consider them "insurmountable".

"From all the parties there was a sense of can do, of positivity today, while at the same time having firm and clear positions, as you would expect," he said.

"And there's work to be done to find middle ground in some of those areas and to accommodate the concerns of people while understanding the political obstacles that other parties may have in terms of some of the issues that are still under discussion."

The minister said it was important that any deal involved all five Stormont parties and not just the DUP and Sinn Féin.

The talks are taking place as the DUP and Tories attempt to strike a separate deal to prop up British Prime Minister Theresa May's minority government.

The British government has rejected suggestions that the deal will hamper power-sharing talks.

DUP MLA Simon Hamilton also struck a positive tone following the first round-table plenary session of a talks process that started last week.

"There have been positive engagements today between ourselves and Sinn Féin," he said.

"I think we will continue to work away on that to try to deliver devolution, to get devolution back up and running again for the people of Northern Ireland so we can deliver for them on the issues of health, education, jobs and the economy."

Sinn Féin's Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill said her party was up for striking a deal.

"I can tell you, we are here wanting to find a deal, wanting to make the institutions work, wanting to deliver good public services, wanting to afford people their rights, wanting to deal with the issue of Brexit, but it has to be done on the basis of equality, respect and integrity in government," she said.

Asked if the Brexit process increased the pressure on her party to re-establish an Executive, Mrs O'Neill said Sinn Féin was already making the case across Europe for Northern Ireland to retain special designated EU status.

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