Coveney: DUP needs to be given ‘space’ to respond to challenges it faces

·3 min read

The “last thing” Northern Ireland needs is for its largest party to be divided, Ireland’s Foreign Affairs Minister has said.

Simon Coveney said the DUP should be given “space” respond to the challenges it is facing.

The party is looking for another new leader after Edwin Poots announced his intention to quit following a brief but tumultuous reign.

First and Deputy First Minister nomination
Edwin Poots resigned just three weeks after being ratified as DUP leader (Brian Lawless/PA)

Mr Poots’ resignation, tendered only three weeks after he was ratified in the role, came after an angry party revolt against his decision to nominate a Stormont First Minister on Thursday

Mr Coveney told RTE’s Morning Ireland programme: “We’re back to square one, if you like, where the party has to find a way of electing a new leader that can unite the DUP, or at least attempts to.

“And that’s important for politics in Northern Ireland.”

He added that, with the region facing “potentially a very tense summer”, what is needed is “stability and some predictability” in Northern Ireland politics.

Mr Coveney also said it is “hard to tell” whether Paul Givan will quit as Stormont’s First Minister following Mr Poots’ resignation.

Edwin Poots announces ministerial team
DUP members were angry at Edwin Poots’ nomination of Paul Givan as First Minister (Liam McBurney/PA)

“The DUP is remaining very tight-lipped in terms of their approach to the First Minister, and, of course, electing a new leader. Whether that will be by contest, or whether they’ll rally behind one name now, is hard to know,” he said.

“We’ll have to wait and see what happens in relation to Paul Givan as First Minister.

“As of now, he is the First Minister in Northern Ireland. He’s been selected and elected yesterday into that position.

“But so much has changed in those 24 hours that you have to say there’s a lot of uncertainty.”

The Fine Gael TD said an election in Northern Ireland at this time would be too “divisive” and that all parties should work towards stabilising the political situation.

“What’s needed now is stability and political leadership as opposed to an election at a time of real polarisation and tension across Northern Ireland within communities and society,” the minister said.

“I think we have enough challenges right now, without a very divisive polarising election in Northern Ireland, but that is what could happen if political leadership can’t find a way of stabilising things in Northern Ireland,” he added.

Mr Coveney also told the programme that the Northern Ireland Secretary of State did the “right thing” by committing to passing Irish language legislation in Westminster if necessary.

“Brandon Lewis did the right thing here by committing to, if necessary, pass legislation in Westminster to deal with language and culture, as committed to 18 months ago in the New Decade New Approach Agreement and that the British government agreed to do 15 years ago if necessary.

“But the hope of course was that that wouldn’t be necessarily and that the executive and assembly in Northern Ireland would be able to pass that legislation.”

He said Edwin Poots “didn’t like” the decision but “accepted it” but many politicians in the DUP could not accept it.

“This in many ways was a trigger, rather than the only reason for, for what happened yesterday,” he added.

Asked about the timing of Tanaiste Leo Varadkar’s comments earlier this week about a united Ireland, Mr Coveney said: “It would be very wrong to link what happened in terms of the end of Edwin Poots’ leadership with anything that the Tanaiste has said.

“There has been debate for some time now, accelerated in many ways by Brexit and issues around Brexit amongst nationalism in Northern Ireland, around what the future holds for the island, how we can work together in partnership, how we can plan for the future.

“And what Leo Varadkar was doing – which is party policy and has been for decades – is to talk about the reality that at some point in his lifetime, he thinks that he may see reunification on this island.”