I propose to take Questions Nos. 112, 117, 120 and 121 together.
I travelled to Belfast on Friday 1 March to deliver the keynote speech at the Alliance Party Annual Conference dinner, a copy of which is available on the Government website - www.merrionstreet.ie. During the course of my speech I emphasised my Government's commitment to being fair and impartial in working with all parties in Northern Ireland and particularly with individuals, groups, and parties in civic nationalism and civic unionism.
I met with Alliance Party leader Naomi Long and other senior party members during the evening when we discussed a wide range of topics including the political situation and citizens rights in Northern Ireland and Brexit.
Prior to the Alliance Party dinner, I had the opportunity to meet with representatives from Northern Ireland business organisations to hear their views and concerns on the latest Brexit developments and the ongoing political impasse in Northern Ireland. We discussed the importance of the All Island economy, challenges that businesses in Northern Ireland are facing and Brexit contingency planning being undertaken by the Irish Government.
I met with DUP Leader Arlene Foster while in the United States for St. Patrick’s Day when we discussed the situation on Brexit as it stood at the time, including prospects for ratification by the UK of the Withdrawal Agreement. We also discussed political developments in Northern Ireland, including the importance of restoration of the institutions under the Good Friday Agreement. I also spoke with Ms Foster at events we were both attending.
Previously, I met Arlene Foster and Sinn Féin Vice President Michelle O'Neill when I travelled to Belfast on Friday 8th February for a series of meetings with each of the five main political parties in Northern Ireland. I also met UUP leader Robin Swann; Alliance Party Leader Naomi Long and Colum Eastwood, leader of the SDLP that day.
These meetings provided an opportunity to engage with the Northern Ireland political parties and to hear their views on latest Brexit developments and on the current political situation in Northern Ireland. We discussed what could be done to get the institutions in Northern Ireland up and running again. Once again, I emphasised the Government’s full commitment to all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement, and our continuing determination to secure the effective operation of all of its institutions.
The Government wants to see an agreement in place to secure the operation of the devolved institutions and we will continue to engage with the British Government and the political parties in Northern Ireland to seek to progress that in the period immediately ahead.
On Brexit, I outlined to each of the NI parties the Government's position, shared by the EU, that the Withdrawal Agreement is not open for renegotiation and represents the best way to secure an orderly Brexit while avoiding a return to a hard border.