Coveney calls for political leaders to condemn violent scenes in the North

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Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, © PA Media
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Vivienne Clarke

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said that both the UK and Irish governments will work to ease tensions in Northern Ireland, calling for political leaders in Northern Ireland to condemn the violence and work out a response to diffuse the situation.

Mr Coveney told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland that the images of violence on the street in Belfast on Wednesday night were “shocking.”

“This needs to stop before someone is killed. That has to start at the top in terms of political leadership,” he added.

It was time for political and community leaders to respond and come together to help defuse tensions. The Irish Government will do its best, he said, but there were some things they could not do.

“Statements from the Irish Government are not going to calm tension in many loyalist communities, it's got to come from the unionist community.”

Spreading violence

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Attempts to spread violence beyond Loyalist communities into Nationalist communities were very worrying, said the Minister.

Mr Coveney also said he hoped there would be unity in the Northern Ireland Assembly when it meets today.

He acknowledged there had been issues in the past about Sinn Féin representatives attending the Bobby Storey funeral and the decision not to pursue charges, but there were processes that could be followed.

Cars which were set alight during another night of trouble in Belfast, © PA Wire/PA Images

“That’s the way to do this – through good politics,” Mr Conveney added.

The images of violence on Wednesday night were images that he had thought had been consigned to history, while a tweet from First Minister Arlene Foster was “not helpful”, he said.

On Wednesday night, Mrs Foster tweeted regarding the violence: "This is not protest. This is vandalism and attempted murder. These actions do not represent unionism or loyalism.

"They are an embarrassment to Northern Ireland and only serve to take the focus off the real lawbreakers in Sinn Féin."

Violent riots were not the way to make a political point, nor was it helpful for politicans to get involved in a "blame game", Mr Coveney said.

“Whether you are a political leader, whether you are a community leader, you have a responsibility now to ensure that 13 and 14-year-olds – and indeed people older than that – are not putting themselves in danger, but more importantly, are not involved in the kind of disgraceful scenes we saw last night, where buses were set on fire and where journalists were attacked – we need to be careful that this doesn’t escalate any further,” he told Newstalk Breakfast.

 

“Some people are pointing the finger at the Irish Government because of Brexit debates and the protocol which I think is completely unfair, but it is happening.”

The Irish Government had no power to offer up compromise on the Northern Ireland Protocol, even if it wanted to. “People talk about that as if that is within the gift of the Irish Government overnight. It is not.”

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Mr Coveney said he and the Irish Government had been advocating within the EU for some time for the flexibilities provided by the Protocol to be used “to the maximum extent possible.”

The British government also had to do their part also, he said, and their moves to change the implementation of the protocol had not helped.

“What needs to happen now is that the structures that have been put in place to deal with the implementation of the Protocol need to work to the full extent possible. That needs to happen.”

All political leaders needed to be careful what they said, Mr Coveney added. It was never difficult to criticise and create tension, he said, but the real challenge was to find ways to come together.

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