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Sunday 23 April 2017

Kenny calls May to talk snap UK election fallout

Taoiseach Enda Kenny
Taoiseach Enda Kenny
British PM Theresa May at Downing Street, announcing that she is seeking a snap election on June 8 Photo: Reuters

Taoiseach Enda Kenny held a 15-minute phone conversation with British prime minister Theresa May last night after she called for a snap UK election to be held on June 8.

The leaders agreed that their public commitments regarding Irish issues ahead of the Brexit negotiations remain "unchanged" despite the political upheaval in the UK.

A spokesperson for Mr Kenny said both governments are still prioritising the protection of an open border between the Republic and Northern Ireland and the retention of the Common Travel Area.

Trading

They also discussed the need to recognise the "close trading links between our intertwined economies".

Mr Kenny emphasised to the prime minister that a return to direct rule in Northern Ireland should not be contemplated.

Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan said he is "concerned" about the impact the Westminster elections will have on talks to form a Northern Ireland Executive.

Stormont has been without a power-sharing government since March 2 as the DUP and Sinn Fein have struggled to reach a deal.

Speculation is now mounting that voters in the North could face a second round of Assembly elections to coincide with the UK vote in June.

However, Mr Flanagan said the Irish Government will be pushing to avoid such a scenario.

He discussed the situation with Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire yesterday.

"The secretary of state told me that his intention, announced last week, remains unchanged - namely, to bring forward legislation at Westminster in the coming days which will include a provision to allow a Northern Ireland Executive to be formed in early May," Mr Flanagan said.

Meanwhile, Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar has played down the possibility of an early election here.

The front-runner to replace Enda Kenny as Taoiseach argued that circumstances in Britain are "very particular", given the huge lead Mrs May's Conservative Party has in the polls.

"I'm sure, or I hope, the new leader of Fine Gael will give the party a bounce. I don't think we'll be 20 points ahead in the polls," said Mr Varadkar.

"We're in a very different situation as well where we've entered a partnership with Independents.

"I think it would be wrong for the new leader of Fine Gael to pull the rug out from under people we've made a partnership with. I wouldn't anticipate an early general election in Ireland."

Domestic

Sources last night indicated the Irish Government intends to "stay out" of the British election.

During the Brexit referendum, ministers did campaign for a Remain vote, but sources said the election is "purely an internal British decision".

"It's a domestic matter for Britain and there's a long-standing tradition that we don't comment directly on that," a source said.

Mr Varadkar has warned that the widely-held expectation that Mrs May will win a large majority in the House of Commons could prove wrong.

"Elections are funny things. They can start off with one expected result and finish with something else," he said.

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