The Minister for Foreign Affairs has said he does not know if the British government is interested in working in partnership to resolve political difficulties in Northern Ireland.

Simon Coveney said the Government wanted partnership and friendship with the UK and to "rebuild trust" to try to solve problems together.

In a very blunt message, he said the kind of working partnership the two governments have enjoyed in the past while dealing with difficult issues in Northern Ireland "is absent at the moment" and that needs to change.

Speaking after a number of meetings with Stormont's main political parties, the minister also expressed concern at the latest reports that the British government is preparing to unilaterally override parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Asked by RTÉ News if he believes the British government is interested in working in partnership with the Irish Government he replied: "I don't know is the honest answer."

He added: "We'd like partnership in terms of working out a way forward on how we deal with the legacy of the past because the British government is moving away from their commitments in Stormont House.

"We'd like partnership on trying to resolve the outstanding issues on the protocol and we're hearing the British government talking about unilateral action and British legislation to override international law.

"So you know, the signals are conflicting. What we want is partnership, friendship and how neighbours should behave with each other, to rebuild trust and try and solve some of these problems together.

"You know, the truth is that Northern Ireland has functioned at its best when the two governments have been working in partnership, that that is an essential part of the Good Friday Agreement, that actually when there are difficult issues to deal with in Northern Ireland that polarises opinion here, that the two governments are there to work together as a foundation if you like, and the basis for compromise, and I'm afraid that kind of partnership is absent at the moment on some of these really important issues.

"And we need to try to work on that, to change it and to ensure that that ministers are working together.

"What makes this even more complicated, of course, is that the European Commission is also central to many of the solutions that we need to find as well.

"But that means the partnership between the British and Irish governments needs to be even closer in my view. So that's our ask, you know, let's talk. Let's try to find a way forward.

"Our focus here is about protecting something that is extraordinarily valuable, which is a peace process that's worked for the last 25 years, and ensure that the institutions survived the stresses and strains that they're living through at the moment."

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Threats have 'gone down badly' with EU

The minister said threats from the UK government to override elements of the protocol "have gone down really badly" with the European Union.

Mr Coveney said: "We don't believe that the way forward in terms of solving outstanding issues can be done unilaterally by either side.

The minister said that outstanding issues over Brexit, the protocol and Northern Ireland can be worked out through partnership and compromise.

"The briefing that we have seen of the British media coming from Foreign Secretary (Liz) Truss and others has gone down really badly across the European Union who believe that the commission has been showing a willingness to compromise, wants ongoing technical discussion to work out solutions and common ground," he said.

"What they are hearing and seeing from London is a rejection of that approach, towards a breach of international law and setting aside elements of a treaty which the British Government was central to putting in place with the EU.

"That hasn't gone down well and I hope that decision-makers in Westminster will reflect on that."


Read: Johnson tells EU there's 'no need for drama' over NI Protocol


Minister Coveney said people in Northern Ireland want their local politicians to be making decisions at Stormont.

He said parties need to make decisions for themselves "in the context of, hopefully, the election of a Speaker this week" so that an Assembly can function.

"Obviously we need to work towards finding a way towards an Executive being set up to function as well," the minister added.

He said that there were "really positive and direct and blunt conversations" with Sinn Féin, the UUP and the Alliance Party. Mr Coveney said that a meeting with the SDLP will take place and that he spoke to DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson recently.

Mr Donaldson said his party has yet to decide whether to vote to elect a new Speaker when MLAs meet in the chamber in two days' time.

The election of the new Speaker is the first item on the agenda for MLAs following the election, and requires cross-community support from nationalist and unionist members.

The DUP is refusing to return to the power-sharing executive until its issues with the protocol are resolved.

Speaking after the meeting with Minister Coveney, Sinn Féin's leader in the North Michelle O'Neill said the Speaker has to be elected.

She also said that her meeting with the minister had been "constructive" because Sinn Féin has a "shared interest" in restoring the Executive.

"It is obvious that we made the case that we want the Executive up and running, working on behalf of the people," she said.

Mr Donaldson told BBC Radio Ulster that his party will decide by Friday whether to elect a new Speaker.

He said: "We will be there on Friday. Our members will be there to sign the roll. We will make a decision as to how we proceed. We'll get the group together and we'll determine how best to take this forward.

"I'm waiting to see what the government has to say. So, that is the priority right now, to ensure that what the government say is moving us in the right direction.

"I'm simply saying that we will need to make a decision on that. That's one of the decisions we've got to make."

Ms O'Neill insisted that the Northern Ireland Protocol cannot be scrapped.

"The protocol is here to stay," she said.

"There are ways to smooth its implementation, and we are certainly up for that, but the rhetoric from the British government in the last number of days is serving only to pander to the DUP."