Ireland’s Martin calls for talks on N.Irish political reforms within a year

By Thomson Reuters Apr 8, 2024 | 11:53 AM

By Padraic Halpin

ARMAGH, Northern Ireland (Reuters) – Discussions on the potential reform of how Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government operates should begin within the next 12 months, Irish Foreign Minster Micheal Martin said on Monday.

Irish nationalists and pro-British unionist politicians are obliged to share power under a 1998 peace deal, but the ability of the largest party on either side to collapse parliament for long periods has been identified by many as a block on progress.

The devolved assembly only resumed in February following the latest suspension, which lasted for two years and left many day-to-day decisions in the hands of civil servants and the British government.

The Irish and British prime ministers opened the door to reforming the political architecture a year ago but said the debate could only happen when political stability returned, declining to put a timeframe on the process.

“I think the basis upon which the assembly is formed and government is formed should change,” Martin told Reuters in an interview on the sidelines of the first meeting of ministers from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in almost three years.

“I think that process should begin certainly within 12 months. The immediate priority is for the institutions to bed down and get on with the work that they’re doing but we can develop mechanisms where these issues can be discussed openly.”

Martin, who is also Ireland’s deputy prime minister and led the country from 2020 to 2022, said last month that any talks on reforms would need to involve all Northern Irish political parties, civic voices and the Irish and British government.

He said on Monday that any reforms would need to be ready for the next Northern Irish elections due by 2027 and mean that no one party should have a veto on the assembly sitting immediately after the vote.

(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; editing by Christina Fincher)