Coveney: We must protect North deal

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has said Ireland will not sign off on Brexit unless the Good Friday Agreement is fully protected.

Speaking in Belfast after his first day of talks with Northern secretary James Brokenshire and party leaders, Mr Coveney was confident the Stormont administration could be re-started in the short term.

However, he said many challenges exist and that the Government will not countenance any moves to dilute or undermine the 1998 agreement.

“Ireland will not sign off on a Brexit deal unless we protect the Good Friday Agreement fully, unless we protect the peace process fully, and unless we protect the normalisation that has been created over a number of decades now on the Island of Ireland,” he said.

“These are core issues and they are even more important than the economic issues in many ways to protect the peace process for the next 50 years.”

Mr Coveney said he was confident a deal could be done within 10 days.

“Yeah, it is doable. The message is clear: All five parties want to get a deal done. They realise Nothern Ireland needs a devolved government here and they are more than conscious that everyone else is talking of Northern Ireland in the context of Brexit but there isn’t a government here to speak for itself,” he said.

Mr Coveney travels to Brussels today to speak to EU chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, but he said it should be the first and deputy first minister holding the meeting. “There is a sense across all the parties that they want to get a deal done within the timeframe, but of course there are issues to resolve and parties do have differences so it is up to all of us to try and resolve those,” he said.

The minister said it was encouraging Ireland was front and centre during the first day of talks in Brussels.

“We can be sure of one thing, Ireland is being prioritised. On the first day of talks, more time was spent talking about Northern Ireland and Ireland than on any other issue,” he said.

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.


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