DUBLIN (Reuters) – The Irish and British governments will seek a way to get talks on restoring Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government back on track and neither is contemplating a return of direct rule from London, Ireland’s foreign minister said on Thursday.
Talks to end a political stalemate broke down yet again on Wednesday after the leader of the largest unionist party said there was no prospect of a deal and called on Britain to take further financial control of the region.
The British province has been without a devolved executive – a central part of a 1998 peace deal that ended three decades of violence – for over a year since Irish nationalists Sinn Fein withdrew from the compulsory power-sharing government with their arch-rivals, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
“The focus now has to be on trying to get these discussions back on track so that the two governments can find a way to find a way of ensuring that the institutions that are the heartbeat of the Good Friday Agreement can be re-established,” Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney told Irish broadcaster RTE.
“Certainly there is no appetite to move towards direct rule (from London)… The statement from the DUP was so unwelcome and so disappointing, but that doesn’t mean we give up.”
The two parties, representing mainly Catholic proponents of a united Ireland and Protestant supporters of continued rule by Britain, have failed to meet a number of deadlines, and the latest round of talks fell apart over disagreement on additional rights for Irish-language speakers.
Appearing to agree with Sinn Fein, Coveney said he had thought the parties had reached an accommodation on the issue in recent days that would have legislated for additional rights as part of a broad recognition of cultural and language diversity.
Sources close to the negotiations told Reuters that some DUP members had issues with the proposed compromise and “robustly raised” their concerns earlier this week.
“Those gaps were closed, that’s why I don’t understand (that) the commentary yesterday was as definitive as it was,” Coveney said.
The absence of an executive has limited Belfast’s say in Britain’s negotiations to leave the European Union, which are set to have a bigger impact on Northern Ireland than on any other part of the United Kingdom.
Many fear a return to British direct rule would further destabilize a delicate balance between nationalists and unionists who, until last year, had run the province since 2007 under the terms of the 1998 accord that mostly ended decades of sectarian conflict that killed more than 3,600 people.
Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Mark Heinrich