Basis for Talks hours after British/Irish governments face off says O’Neill – By Brian Rowan

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The morning after the Coveney row of the night before, there has been a development in the Stormont Talks.

A speech by Michelle O’Neill speaks of intensified dialogue with the DUP for more than a week “to determine whether political progress is possible”.

“We do believe progress is possible and are therefore ready to re-engage in formal negotiations together, and with the other parties and both governments, to try and reach agreement in a short, sharp and focused negotiation. This process should begin immediately,” Sinn Fein’s northern leader said on Wednesday.

It does not mean that outstanding issues have been resolved, but that there will be another effort to reach agreement.

The development comes just hours after a headline row linked to comments by Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveneny  that “there can be no British-only direct rule”.

Since stepping into the Stormont Talks on June 19th Coveney has made an impression.

He brings a presence and political weight to these negotiations; an understanding of the complexity of the issues – and, from day one, there has been nothing choreographed or rehearsed in relation to his news conferences.

No hand-picked questions, no getting away from the microphone as quickly as possible.

He knows his brief. He knows the trouble in which this process is. He knows it won’t easily be fixed, and he knows he is not here to sit quietly in the corner.

The Irish Government is part of these talks and negotiations.

On Tuesday, he walked the corridors of Parliament Buildings where he met the parties, and then he spoke to journalists in the Great Hall – stood there until every question had been asked.

What was his focus?  – the restoration of the Executive, the urgent need for that to happen – and trying to find the words and agreements to make that possible; to help the politics of this place out of the dead end in which it is stuck.

He knows there is no good Plan B; knows a deal is needed between the DUP and Sinn Fein “on some core issues”.

This is his focus, but the headline of Tuesday became those few words said within many other words – “there can be no British-only direct rule”.

He was speaking in response to a question I asked. For context, the journalist Amanda Ferguson published his full answer on twitter.



There had been a statement from the UK Government, including: “We will never countenance any arrangement, such as Joint Authority, inconsistent with the principle of consent in the Agreement.”

Coveney did not speak of Joint Authority – but the role the Irish Government has to play as set out in the Good Friday Agreement.

Does anyone really believe a British-only response will work if a Stormont agreement is not achieved?

On this website, a fortnight ago, I wrote these few sentences: This negotiation is not just about the Northern Ireland parties. It is about the governments also. If an agreement is not reached between the DUP and Sinn Fein, then what is the Brokenshire-Coveney plan? A British-only approach will not work. The direct rule of the past will not work (writing at August 23rd).

There has been an overreaction to a few words from Simon Coveney – a reaction that stems from the new Tory-DUP arrangement in London.

On Tuesday, the Irish Foreign Affairs Minister was not speaking about Joint Authority.

His focus, his concentration, is on fixing what is broken – restoring the Executive and making politics work again.

That is the challenge of these talks.

It is the work of the next negotiation that Michelle O’Neill has now pointed to.


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About Author

Brian Rowan

Brian Rowan is a journalist/author. A former BBC correspondent in Belfast, four times he has been a category winner in the Northern Ireland Press and Broadcast Awards. He is the author of several books on the peace process. His latest book (published by Merrion Press) POLITICAL PURGATORY – the battle to save Stormont and the play for a New Ireland is now available at

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