Cate McCurry, PA
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he hopes the decision to exclude Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald from a meeting with Britain's foreign secretary James Cleverly is not a “new precedent”.
Ms McDonald was told she could not attend meetings with Mr Clevely on Wednesday which discussed the Northern Ireland Protocol and the Stormont political deadlock.
Mr Cleverly insisted Sinn Féin were not excluded from the meeting, stating the party's vice president Michelle O’Neill was invited to attend but decided against, with the party withdrawing from the talks.
This is a time for inclusive, good faith engagement. It is regrettable & bizarre that the British Govt chose to exclude the leader of Sinn Féin from today's party leaders meeting. I remain determined to work constructively with all to get the Executive & Assembly working for all
— Mary Lou McDonald (@MaryLouMcDonald) January 11, 2023
The decision to exclude Ms McDonald from the talks was criticised by the Government, with Mr Varadkar saying it is not usual practice to tell other parties who should be part of their delegation.
Speaking following a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday evening, Mr Varadkar said: “I know when I visit Northern Ireland tomorrow (Thursday) to meet with the different political parties, Deputy McDonald will be part of the Sinn Fein delegation.”
“It’s never been our practice to tell other people who should be on their delegation.
“If you ask to meet somebody or somebody comes to meet you, it really should be for them to decide who’s on their delegation and who leads it.
“That’s the approach that we take, it had been the approach that the British government took in the past, so I hope this was a one-off and that doesn’t represent a change of policy,” he added.
Mr Cleverly defended the decision, stating the meeting was to hear from political representatives in the North, adding he would meet politicians from the Republic “in the near future”.
The exclusion of Sinn Féin President & party leader @MaryLouMcDonald by the British government from today’s party leaders’ meeting is unacceptable.
This is a time for inclusive dialogue to restore the Executive, fix our health service & support people through rising living costs pic.twitter.com/5vKF5YNlj4
— Michelle O’Neill (@moneillsf) January 11, 2023
Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin said the decision by his British counterpart was “unfortunate”.
Mr Martin said: “I don’t know the background to it at all, but that said I don’t think it will be an impediment.
“I had a good discussion with Michelle O’Neill earlier in the week.
“I think everyone is up for working constructively to try and resolve these issues and get the Executive up and running.
“Our objective of this Government is to have the mandate that was given in the last Assembly elections fulfilled in terms of the Assembly being convened and also the Executive being established in line with the results of the election.
“I would hope that, notwithstanding what happened today, that it will not act as an impediment. I don’t think it will.”
Both Mr Varadkar and Mr Martin travel to the North for meetings on Thursday.
Mr Varadkar is to meet with representatives of Stormont’s five political parties, while Mr Martin will hold talks with Britain's Northern Ireland secretary Chris Heaton-Harris.