Coveney says he will not stop visiting Northern Ireland or be intimidated by threats

The Minister for Foreign Affairs said those objecting to his presence north of the Border were not reflective of the majority of people
Coveney says he will not stop visiting Northern Ireland or be intimidated by threats

David Young and Grainne Ni Aodha, PA

The Minister for Foreign Affairs has said he will continue to make regular visits to Northern Ireland and will not be intimidated by loyalists objecting to his presence.

Simon Coveney also addressed recent loyalist anger about the prospect of UK/Irish joint authority if devolution was not restored in Belfast.

Mr Coveney insisted joint authority was not the “focus” of the Irish Government as he expressed frustration that too much attention was being paid to it.

On Wednesday, Britain's Northern Ireland secretary Chris Heaton-Harris reiterated the UK government position that it “will not countenance” joint authority. He also made clear that threats of violence had no place in Northern Ireland.

Foreign Affairs minister Simon Coveney in Belfast
Simon Coveney speaking to the media at the Irish Government Secretariat in Belfast (Niall Carson/PA)

Some unionists and loyalists have criticised the Irish Government’s role in the Brexit process and partly blame Dublin for the creation of the Northern Ireland Protocol and the economic barriers it has created on trade between Britain and Northern Ireland.

Recent Sinn Féin calls for an Irish Government role in the running of Northern Ireland if the ongoing devolution logjam continues further angered some within the loyalist community.

Last week, an umbrella group representing loyalist paramilitary groups wrote a letter to unionist politicians urging them to make clear that Irish Government ministers were not welcome in Northern Ireland.

Earlier this year, a bomb scare forced the evacuation of an event being addressed by Mr Coveney in Belfast.

He was asked about the issue on Wednesday after holding talks with Mr Heaton-Harris in Belfast. He said the topic came up in discussions with the Northern Ireland secretary.

“The Irish Government and Irish Government ministers have obligations under the Good Friday Agreement to be part of discussions here in Belfast on how the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement are protected, sustained and supported,” he said.

“We take those obligations seriously, and that’s why you’re likely to see me regularly here, meeting my counterpart, and trying to fulfil the obligation and the responsibilities that I have, and that the Irish Government has in that regard.

“We are not going to be intimidated by people who don’t do not reflect the vast majority of people’s opinion here in Northern Ireland, who want to see the British and Irish governments working together for stability, for certainty, for peace, and to ensure that the institutions that were set up nearly 25 years ago can deliver for people in Northern Ireland.

“Small numbers of people with hard-line thinking, making threatening statements are not going to put us off.”

Ulster powersharing
Britain's Northern Ireland secretary Chris Heaton-Harris (Brian Lawless/PA)

In a statement issued after his meeting with Mr Coveney, Mr Heaton-Harris said: “Violence or the threat of violence has no place in Northern Ireland. I want to highlight the importance of pursuing a more peaceful and prosperous future for Northern Ireland through democratic means.”

Mr Coveney was also asked about the issue of joint authority.

“Joint authority is not our focus,” he replied.

“Our focus is to get the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement up and running again; to get devolved government working for people in Northern Ireland; to get north-south institutions working again, so that we have the kind of relationship north-south that we should have, as was intended under the peace agreement; to ensure that we have the east-west institutions functioning as they were intended to as well.

“So, our focus is not on putting pressure to look for joint authority.

“Our focus is very much on getting the devolved institutions functioning again so that people feel that they’re represented in Northern Ireland, and that they have a devolved government here that that reflects the diversity of opinion across Northern Ireland society, and that those institutions can work with both the British government on the Irish Government as appropriate.

“I think there’s been too much talk, to be honest, about joint authority and not enough talk about getting an executive back up and functioning again.”

On the issue of joint authority, Mr Heaton-Harris said: “The Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement clearly sets out that the consent principle governs the constitutional position of Northern Ireland.

“The UK government will not countenance any arrangements that are inconsistent with that principle such as joint authority.”

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