Dialogue is the most fundamental element in any talks when it comes to resolving problems, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney believes, adding that Dublin is ready to assist Cyprus in promoting reconciliation between the island’s two communities.
In an interview with CNA, ahead of his visit here, he also said that Cyprus is in a unique position in the EU in relation to addressing issues concerning the Middle East, noting that Ireland and Cyprus have over the years worked together on these matters.
On Brexit negotiations relating to the border with Northern Ireland, he expressed immense gratitude to Cyprus and other EU members for their solidarity.
Asked what lessons Cyprus can learn from Ireland with regard to efforts towards a negotiated settlement, given that all parties involved in “the troubles” have managed to clinch the Good Friday Agreement, he said “I can only speak about the lessons we have learned in our own peace process.”
“The most fundamental is the importance of dialogue. Dialogue works. But we have to remember that maintaining dialogue is just as important as beginning it,” he pointed out.
Invited to identify the missing link in the Cyprus peace process which prevents interested parties from reaching a deal, the Minister acknowledged that “every context is different and so is every peace process,” adding that he will be discussing the Cyprus question with the Foreign Minister Nicos Christodoulides and Elizabeth Spehar, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General.
“I am keen to hear from them at first-hand about the current state-of-play,” he noted.
“Lesson learning is a two-way street and we stand ready to assist in promoting reconciliation between the communities. We are immensely proud of the Irish police officers serving in UNFICYP and I am looking forward to meeting them in person on my visit,” he noted.
Regarding the situation in the Middle East, and ways Ireland can contribute to the peace effort, he said that “Ireland has a particular interest in the resolution of the conflict between Israel and its Palestinian and Arab neighbours, and has consistently been very active on this issue at EU level. I have made this a personal priority since taking office, and this is my third visit to the region in less than a year. I will be exploring with the parties how Ireland and the EU can help, both with the wider peace process and with possible confidence building actions on the ground, particularly in Gaza.”
Cyprus, he stressed, “has a unique position in the EU in relation to Middle East affairs. Problems in Palestine, in Syria, in Lebanon, are directly on your doorstep, and Cyprus has good relations with and extensive knowledge and understanding of all the countries of the region. Ireland and Cyprus have for many years worked and consulted closely together on Middle East issues.”
“I am keen to have a discussion with Minister Christodoulides on how we can try to bring some momentum into the Middle East Peace Process,” the Minister told CNA in an interview.
Asked about the purpose of his visit, the Minister referred to the “special affinity” which has developed between Irish Ministers and their Cypriot counterparts since 2004, adding that bilateral visits in each direction are an opportunity to capitalise on the personal connections which have developed over the years and “allow us to look at how the close relations we enjoy can be strengthened even further.”
Bilateral ties, issues on the European agenda such as Brexit and the new multi-annual financial framework, in addition to tourist matters, including new direct flights between Cyprus and Ireland, will be on the agenda of his talks here.
“Ireland and Cyprus are like-minded on a wide-range of European issues. We understand one another and I have always found we work well together on issues of common concern,” he said, referring to bilateral relations on all fronts.
Invited to identify the areas where there is room for improvement, he talked about tourist traffic between the two countries, pointing out that “we need to build on this now to bring a new impetus into the commercial relationship.” He said the Irish embassy in Nicosia will look into opportunities for growth in the food and beverages sector, the energy sector and in Higher Education as an English-speaking option for Cypriot students.
Questioned on the Brexit negotiations relating to the border with Northern Ireland, he replied: “We are immensely grateful to Cyprus and our European partners for the solidarity they have shown on this issue. We are now at another crucial stage in the Brexit negotiations. Significantly more progress is needed on agreeing the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, including the backstop on avoiding a hard border, ahead of the European Council at the end of this month.”
On Dublin’s efforts to help things move forward in the Northern Ireland peace process, he said that “as co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, the Irish Government, working with the British Government, has spared no effort in supporting and facilitating talks on the formation of an Executive in Northern Ireland.”
“Ultimately, however, devolved power-sharing government can only operate on the basis of an agreement between the two largest parties. It has not proven possible to secure such agreement to date, despite intensive engagement over many months. Fully functioning, devolved, power-sharing government is the only way forward for Northern Ireland, and is urgently required,” he explained.
With regard to the referendum results on abortion, the FM said the Government wants to implement the will of the people, as demonstrated in the decisive result of the referendum, without delay.
“Before terminations are available in Ireland, three things need to happen: we need to pass the new law; we need to introduce clinical guidelines on this area; and we need to regulate the medicines which will be prescribed for the termination of pregnancy. The Government has made it clear that while we want to get this done, we are also determined to get it right, for women and doctors,” he explained.
(CYPRUS NEWS AGENCY)