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Thursday, September 21, 2023

People in Northern Ireland sent ‘clear message’ they want return to power-sharing – Taoiseach

The people of Northern Ireland have sent a clear message that they want power-sharing back up and running, the Taoiseach has said.

Commenting after last week’s local elections in the region, Leo Varadkar told the Dáil that he and British prime minister Rishi Sunak would do all they could to help restore the devolved institutions in Belfast.

But he cautioned that the power to resurrect the Stormont Assembly and Executive currently lay with the DUP.

Mr Varadkar was responding to a question from Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald who had urged the Taoiseach and Mr Sunak to convene a meeting of the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference (BIIC) in the wake of the council elections.

“The message is clear from the people of Northern Ireland, that they want the Executive up and running, and they want the enormous problems that they face on a day-to-day basis dealt with by their politicians,” Mr Varadkar said.

The elections saw Sinn Féin emerge as the largest party in local government for the first time in Northern Ireland, replicating its result in the Assembly election last year when it became the biggest party at Stormont.

While the DUP lost its position as the largest party at council level, it consolidated its position as the main unionist party by winning the same number of seats as it secured in the last local government election in 2019.

The DUP is currently exercising a veto to block powersharing in Northern Ireland in protest at post-Brexit trading arrangements.

The party has insisted the election result has reinforced its mandate to seek further concessions from the UK government on the vexed trading dispute.

But Sinn Féin has insisted the electorate has made clear it wants a return to devolution without any further delay.

The party has called for Mr Sunak and Mr Varadkar to convene a meeting of the BIIC to chart a path back to powersharing.

Raising the issue in the Dáil on Tuesday, Ms McDonald said: “A few days ago, the north went to the polls again and delivered a seismic change in local government elections.

“And the clear message is that Ireland has changed and is changing. The clearer message is that people want to see the Executive back up and running to deal with the issues that matter in health and housing, in delivering good jobs and to make politics work for everyone.

“So it’s now critical that the British and Irish governments come together and focus the effort on the immediate restoration of the Executive and Assembly and I believe this must happen at Taoiseach and prime minister level.

“We need to see an early meeting of the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference at this level.

“Taoiseach, can I ask will you work to ensure that this happens?”

Mr Varadkar said he had discussed the issue with Mr Sunak in Iceland last week and would be meeting him again at the European Political Community summit in Moldova next week.

“We will be working together to do all that we can to ensure that the Assembly, the Executive, the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement are back up and running again,” he said.

“But as you know as well as I do, the rules allow the two major parties – Sinn Féin and the DUP – to block that from happening, the DUP are currently the ones who are blocking it.

“But we’re going to work together with the UK government to do all that we can to have it up and running as soon as possible.”

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