By Ian Graham
BELFAST (Reuters) – Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited Northern Ireland on Monday to mark the restoration of the British province’s devolved executive after three years and to hold talks with Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar.
Parties representing Irish nationalists and pro-British unionists on Saturday ended a three-year standoff that had threatened a key part of the region’s 1998 peace settlement by forming a new power-sharing administration.
Johnson met First Minister Arlene Foster of the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill of Irish nationalists Sinn Fein on arrival at the Stormont estate, seat of the Northern Ireland government.
Varadkar and Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney were due to arrive later for talks, an Irish government spokesman said.
Before the 1998 peace deal, Northern Ireland suffered three decades of sectarian violence between Irish nationalist militants seeking a united Ireland and pro-British loyalists defending the region’s place in the United Kingdom.
The so-called Good Friday Agreement established the Assembly – a devolved legislature with a power-sharing leadership which has administrative responsibility for the province and can make new laws in areas such as the economy, finance and healthcare.
That arrangement collapsed in 2017 when Sinn Fein withdrew, saying it was not being treated equally by the DUP.
The deal to restore the executive came just weeks after Johnson secured a big majority in the British parliament, ending his party’s dependence on DUP votes.
Johnson said he planned to use the visit to press the need for public service reform and to help resolve a strike in the health service.
The British government had promised more money to help Northern Ireland fund public services if it could get its devolved administration up and running again, but it has not publicly disclosed a figure.
(Reporting Ian Graham in Belfast and William James in London; Editing by Mark Potter, Daniel Wallis and Nick Macfie)