Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney says unionists have nothing to fear from the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, after it was labelled a talking shop by the DUP.
Mr Coveney was in London on Wednesday for the talks with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Karen Bradley and Minister for the Cabinet Office David Lidington.
“Unionists in Northern Ireland they have nothing to fear from a British Irish Intergovernmental Conference, this is an agreed structure that both governments have signed up to as part of the Good Friday agreement,” Mr Coveney said.
“We do not deal with devolved decision making.
“What we’re about is reinforcing the message that the British and Irish governments as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement, are working together through the structures of that agreement.
“We are doing what we can to provide an environment where political parties are able to interact again, hopefully with a view to restore the devolved government so that people in Northern Ireland can have their political decisions made by the people that they elected.”
Northern Ireland has been without a devolved government for 19 months since talks between majority parties DUP and Sinn Fein broke down.
Coveney said both he and the UK Government are keen to see the Stormont Assembly up and running again and discussed a number of initiatives to bring parties back to the table.
“There is ongoing dialogue between both governments that hopefully will allow us to try some new initiatives in the early autumn.
“There are efforts to create a platform for political parties in Northern Ireland to interact, with a view to re-establishing a functioning executive, which is hugely important.
“We cannot allow Northern Ireland to drift,” he said.
The DUP were critical of the conference, claiming the people of Northern Ireland want direct action, not further talks.
DUP East Antrim MLA Gordon Lyons said: “Arlene Foster rightly labelled the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference ‘a talking shop’.
“It is not a structure where decisions can be made about our roads, hospitals, schools or economy.
“For Sinn Fein, it is a smokescreen to distract from the fact that they stand isolated in boycotting the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive and the House of Commons.
Sinn Fein deputy Leader Michelle O’Neill MLA however, welcomed the meeting.
“Today’s conference is an important step to help remove the obstacles to genuine power-sharing and for London and Dublin to fulfil their obligations to the Good Friday Agreement.
“In the absence of the Assembly at this time, the choice is between the protection of the Good Friday Agreement which is under constant attack by the hard Brexiteers within the DUP and Tory party, or its abandonment,” she said.
Following the meeting, the governments issued a joint statement setting out the areas of discussion, which covered legacy issues, security co-operation, East-West bilateral issues and political stability in Northern Ireland.