Northern Ireland: Rishi Sunak calls for Stormont return on Good Friday Agreement anniversary

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The prime minister said the UK government 'stands ready' to work with partners to restore power-sharing in Northern Ireland

Rishi Sunak has hailed the courage and compromise shown by the leaders behind the Good Friday Agreement as he called for power-sharing to return to Northern Ireland.

On the 25th anniversary of the historic peace deal, the prime minister celebrated the “difficult decisions” taken and “political imagination” displayed to end the Troubles. “So we must get on with the business of governance,” he said in a statement on Monday (10 April), ahead of talks to get Stormont running again.

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The peace brought by the treaty also remains fragile, with the terror threat having been raised amid warnings of possible attacks on police on Easter Monday.

It's against this potentially volatile backdrop that Sunak will host US President Joe Biden in Northern Ireland to commemorate the event, which takes place despite the assembly key to the deal still not sitting.

Sunak said there is a need to “recommit to redoubling our efforts” to deliver on the promise made when the deal was signed on 10 April 1998. Reflecting on the “beginning of a new chapter”, he said the agreement “continues to enjoy huge international support”, as demonstrated by Biden’s visit.

“As we look forward, we will celebrate those who took difficult decisions, accepted compromise, and showed leadership – showing bravery, perseverance, and political imagination,” he said.

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“We commemorate those who are no longer with us and the many who lost their lives by trying to prevent violence and protect the innocent.

“And we give thanks to them as we reflect on the new generations that have grown up and continue to grow in a world in which peace and prosperity has prevailed.

“While it is time to reflect on the solid progress we have made together, we must also recommit to redoubling our efforts on the promise made in 1998 and the agreements that followed.”

That vision, he said, is of “economic opportunity, prosperity, and stability”.

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“So we must get on with the business of governance,” Sunak continued. “My mission, duty and responsibility as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is to deliver for people in Northern Ireland.

“We stand ready to work with our partners in the Irish government and the local parties to ensure that the institutions are up and running again as soon as possible. There is work to be done.”

When could Stormont return?

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said no-one could put a timeline on when power-sharing would be back up and running. He told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour: “Anybody who is predicting a date by which the executive would go back in Northern Ireland would be someone who can also sell you a four-leaf clover. No one knows – deadlines are deadly in Northern Ireland term.”

Stormont collapsed in January 2017 (Image: Getty)Stormont collapsed in January 2017 (Image: Getty)
Stormont collapsed in January 2017 (Image: Getty) | Getty Images

Writing in The Telegraph, he added: “Across a range of measures, the people of Northern Ireland are being directly impacted because of an ongoing lack of locally accountable devolved government.

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“The UK Government wants to see the Northern Ireland institutions delivering better public services, more investment and a stronger Union based on prosperity… there is no surer way to achieve that than for political parties to come together to get on with the job of delivering on the people’s priorities and to make Northern Ireland work.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said Northern Ireland is standing at “another crossroads” 25 years after the agreement that he said represents the “very best of what our politics can achieve, the triumph of hope over division, of peace over strife and of prosperity over conflict”.

“With political stalemate at Stormont and a period of difficult Anglo-Irish relations, we must use the spirit and the trust built by the architects of the Good Friday Agreement to push us forward to another 25 years of peace and prosperity,” he said.

What has the DUP said?

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), has stressed the political vacuum caused by his party’s refusal to return to Stormont is not to blame. In February last year the DUP withdrew its support for the power-sharing institutions formed by the Good Friday Agreement as it protests against post-Brexit trading arrangements.

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Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he will be “intensifying” talks with Sunak in the coming weeks to try to get Stormont running again. “We’re working towards having the institutions up and running in the next few months,” he told RTE’s This Week programme.

Sunak will meet Biden off Air Force One when he arrives on Tuesday evening. The president will take part in events on Wednesday, before heading to the Republic of Ireland, where he will visit Dublin, Co Louth and Co Mayo.

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