Leo says no to Lon­don rule as North talks fail

Irish Daily Mail - - News - By Se­nan Molony Po­lit­i­cal Edi­tor se­nan.molony@dai­ly­mail.ie

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’

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