Dublin: No Stormont talks before general election - Varadkar

By Shane Harrison
BBC NI Dublin correspondent

Image caption,
Leo Varadkar also said he was hopeful a post-Brexit trade deal could be sealed between the UK and Republic of Ireland

Leo Varadkar has said the UK election results will be allowed to play out before deciding whether to reconvene talks on restoring devolution.

He said ideally talks should be restarted before Christmas, but ahead of 13 January.

If Stormont is not restored by then, NI Secretary Julian Smith has pledged to call fresh elections.

Mr Varadkar was addressing politicians gathered in Dublin for a British-Irish Council meeting in Phoenix Park.

SNP leader and First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon was also at the meeting.

The devolved assembly and executive at Stormont has been suspended for almost three years after the institutions collapsed amid a bitter row over a green energy scheme.

Talks to restore them have so far proved fruitless.

'It cannot continue'

"We need Arlene [Foster] and Michelle [O'Neill] to get stuck in," said Mr Smith, addressing the stalemate at Stormont.

"This situation cannot continue, the people of Northern Ireland need political decision-making.

"The institution of assembly is a key part of the Good Friday Agreement, we need the parties to get stuck in after the election."

"That's what young and old people tell me day in and out," he said.

He said the need to call an election would "mark a failure on every politician on Northern Ireland".

Image source, PA Media
Image caption,
Nicola Sturgeon is in Dublin for the meeting

'Difficult but not impossible'

Leo Varadkar said a post-Brexit trade deal between the UK and the Republic of Ireland is possible before the end of next year.

Mr Varadkar said a deal would be "difficult but not impossible".

He stated such a deal would be dependent on not diverging significantly from current trading terms.

"My aim is we will continue to have tariff-free trade with Great Britain, not just Northern Ireland," he said.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has previously stated he thinks it would be possible to negotiate a new free trade deal with the EU before December 2020, which is theoretically the end of the transition period.

Ms Sturgeon told the conference there was a "sense in Scotland that this is a pivotal and defining election".

"I think that's going to be a theme that takes people to the polls, albeit in very cold weather."

What is the British-Irish Council?

The British-Irish Council was set up to promote east-west relations as part of the Good Friday Agreement.

Due to the Stormont stalemate, there is no representative from any of the Northern Ireland parties.

Cabinet minister Michael Gove had originally been set to represent the UK government, but was later replaced by Julian Smith.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Northern Ireland Secretary of State Julian Smith will represent the UK government at the meeting in Dublin

The body consists of the British and Irish governments, the devolved UK administrations, and representatives from the Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey.

What is the British-Irish Council?

It was set up under the Good Friday Agreement, which signalled an end to 30 years of violence in Northern Ireland, as part of efforts to boost and strengthen east-west relations.

It meets every six months and is relatively low-profile at the moment.

Its sister organisation was the North-South Ministerial Council, made up of ministers from the Northern Ireland Executive and ministers from the Irish government.

However, that has not met since just before the collapse of Stormont.

It was last held in Northern Ireland in 2013, when representatives met in Londonderry to mark its year as UK City of Culture.

The UK general election and resulting uncertainty means that no major decision is expected on Friday.

But the council may - because of Brexit - become more influential in the future.