Leo says no to London rule as North talks fail
TALKS to restore the Stormont government failed yesterday after DUP leader Arlene Foster said power sharing ‘is not possible at this time’.
However, the failure led to divisions between former First Minister Ms Foster and Leo Varadkar’s Government.
After bringing an end to recent hopes that the Northern Assembly would be up and running shortly, Ms Foster yesterday invited the British government ‘to set a budget and start making policy decisions about our schools, hospitals and infrastructure’. But the Taoiseach immediately expressed his opposition to direct rule.
In a statement, he said: ‘I very much regret the statement from the DUP. Powersharing and working together are the only way forward for Northern Ireland.’ He said Tánaiste Simon Coveney and Northern Secretary No more time: Arlene Foster Karen Bradley are in close contact. ‘We will continue to confer with the British government about the next steps,’ he added.
In December, the Taoiseach was clear about what Dublin would seek if the Northern administration was not restored.
He said he was ready to invoke a little-known provision of the Good Friday Agreement, to allow for administration of the North by an Intergovernmental Conference – meaning Britain and Ireland as co-guarantors of the 1998 deal. This would trump the DUP’s preference of a continuation of the tradition of direct rule from Westminster.
At the time, Mr Varadkar said if the talks failed there would be two options. ‘The first option is another set of elections, although it’s hard to see what outcome would arise that would put us in a better position. The second is convening the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, which would allow the two governments implement the Good Friday Agreement in the absence of an Assembly and Executive in Northern Ireland.’
He explained: ‘Essentially, the Good Friday Agreement provides for matters that are not devolved to be dealt with by the British Irish Governmental Conference and that’s what we will seek.’
He insisted: ‘We won’t be supporting direct rule.’ Hopes had risen that a breakthrough deal on powersharing was close when the Taoiseach and British Prime Minister Theresa May travelled to Belfast on Monday. However, Ms Foster’s statement yesterday afternoon made it clear that the talks were effectively dead.
She said: ‘In our view, there is no current prospect of these discussions leading to an Executive being formed. It is now incumbent upon Her Majesty’s government to set a budget and start making policy decisions about our schools, hospitals and infrastructure.’
She also said: ‘I have made it consistently clear that unionists will not countenance a stand-alone or free-standing Irish Language Act. Sinn Fein’s insistence on a stand-alone Irish Language Act means that we have reached an impasse. As far back as last summer, I outlined my party’s willingness to reach an accommodation on language and cultural issues. However, I indicated that any such accommodation must be fair, balanced and capable of commanding support on all sides.’
‘We won’t support direct rule’