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Arlene Foster on power-sharing: 'It takes two to tango and we're ready to dance'

Varadkar met with delegations from the Sinn Fein and DUP at Government Buildings today.

An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar TD and Democratic Unionist Party Leader Arlene Foster today.
An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar TD and Democratic Unionist Party Leader Arlene Foster today.
Image: Sam Boal

Updated 6.30pm

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR met with the leadership of both Sinn Féin and the DUP today, hoping to break the impasse that has left the North without an Executive since March.

Speaking to the media following their meeting, DUP leader Arlene Foster said it was down to Sinn Féin whether an agreement is reached.

“It takes two to tango and we’re ready to dance,” she said.

Foster said she wished the new Taoiseach well and reassured him her party want to see devolution back up and running in the North as quickly as possible.

Both parties said they believe this is achievable.

Before his meeting with Varadkar, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams was asked about the “tango” reference made by Foster.

Adams took the opportunity to make reference to the revelation he made in the Dáil on Wednesday – when he said he and Varadkar had attended the same pilates class.

Adams joked that perhaps a “cross border pilates group” might be just what’s needed to get the two parties together again.

The power-sharing Assembly has been vacant since January after a bitter row between the parties over the “cash-for-ash” scandal.

As that controversy rumbled on, Foster ignored repeated calls for her to step aside while an investigation was carried out into the scheme – which could cost taxpayers in the North in the region of £400 million (about €460 million), possibly more.

Time is ticking to get the institutions up and running again, with the British government setting a deadline of 29 June for the formation of an executive before it transfers power back to Westminster or orders another election.

Adams said now was a time to move past the rhetoric, with Sinn Fein’s leader in the North, Michelle O’Neill, stating that the party remains “fully committed to making the institutions work”.

“We also respect the other party’s mandate. We want to get back to an Executive that has all the parties around the table, that we are collectively making decisions,” she said.

We need this Taoiseach to have a new approach, to have a step change in their actions in relation to securing implementation of previous agreements… This Taoiseach needs to step up. He needs to make sure he plays his role and takes it very seriously – that role of co-guarantor [of the Good Friday Agreement].

7348 Michelle O Neill_90515131 Sinn Fein delegation meet Leo Varadkar. Sinn Fein Leader in the North Michelle O’Neill shakes hands with Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar at Government Buildings in Dublin today. Source: Sam Boal

During her discussions with Varadkar, Foster said there was also conversation about negotiations that are taking place between her party and the Conservatives in the UK over government formation.

She said Varadkar recognised that it was matter for the DUP and Conservative party, but she said she reassured him that her party “would be acting in relation to the stability of the whole of the UK and certainly within the national interest”.

“That is the way we will continue to talk to the Conservative party,” added Foster.

The Taoiseach said last week that he had concerns about the DUP going into government with the Conservatives and how it could undermine the Good Friday Agreement.

Foster said the talks between the Conservatives and the DUP are continuing today and will continue into next week.

A Government statement this evening said that during today’s talks “the Taoiseach made clear that he and his Government would work in support of the Northern Ireland parties to re-establish the Executive, and in pursuit of strong North-South relations including through the North South Ministerial Council”.

He stressed the objectives of ensuring that Brexit does not impact negatively on the Good Friday Agreement and the Peace Process, and protecting North-South trade and economic activity and the Common Travel Area.
The Taoiseach raised the ongoing discussions on formation of a new Government in London with the DUP, which is a matter for the parties represented at Westminster, but noted the need to avoid any outcome which could interfere with devolution and the prospects of re-establishing the Executive.
Finally, the Taoiseach noted opportunities for investment in infrastructure which could be of benefit on both parts of the island, and agreed that discussions on this should continue.

- With reporting by Paul Hosford and Daragh Brophy 

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