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Every effort required to avoid snap election in Stormont – Coveney

Every effort must be made to find an alternative to snap elections at Stormont, said Irish Foreign Secretary Simon Coveney.

Mr Coveney was in Belfast where he held meetings with Sinn Fein, the Alliance Party, the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP.

The DUP is blocking the functioning of power-sharing institutions in Belfast as part of its protest against the Northern Ireland Protocol, which impedes the movement of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The UK government has promised to secure changes to the protocol, either through a negotiated compromise with the EU or through proposed national legislation that would empower ministers to scrap the deals without Brussels’ approval.

Relations between the UK and the EU appear to have improved since Liz Truss became Prime Minister and London and Brussels raised the potential for a deal through new negotiations.

Current legislation says that unless Stormont is reinstated by October 28, Northern Ireland Minister Chris Heaton-Harris must call a general assembly election, which he has agreed to do.

Mr Coveney has said that an agreement between the UK and the EU before October 28 is “not realistic”.

He added: “I speak to the Foreign Secretary on a fairly regular basis and we will be working together fairly intensively over the next few weeks to try and create the conditions for all parties in Northern Ireland to believe that they can pull back into the room to create an executive and a functioning assembly.

“We are looking for a breakthrough on some of these issues over the next few weeks so that we can have the basis to move forward on some of the contentious issues before the end of October.

“By providing momentum and encouragement to those who are not ready to re-enter the executive branch for now, it is a leap worth taking.

“It’s time to agree on common ground so we can sort out problems.”

After meeting Mr Coveney, Alliance Party leader Naomi Long said: “I am extremely concerned that we are 16 days away from having absolutely no political leadership, political oversight and control, decision-making or direction within government.

“We may be entering this void at a time of unprecedented crisis. Not only for individual families due to the cost of living crisis, but for companies and the economy due to the cost-of-doing-business crisis.

“We saw for the first time yesterday a drop in employment and the impact that will have on individual people’s lives.

“And yet, despite it all, the DUP seems willing to use the pain of the people of Northern Ireland as a bargaining chip for protocol.”

Sinn Fein Vice President Michelle O’Neill said it was unacceptable that Stormont had not formed an executive.

She added: “There is one party that is blocking this.

“We need the DUP to join the rest of us, we need to sit at the board table, we need to make decisions in the best interest of the people.

“We need to be a strong voice against what is happening in the UK, the fact that mortgage rates are going through the roof and affecting pensions.

“It’s ridiculous that we don’t have a government.”

But DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said any agreement on the protocol must result in an outcome acceptable to unionists.

He said: “Whether Northern Ireland’s place in the UK is restored through an outcome of negotiations or through legislation in Parliament is a matter for the Government.

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