Ir­ish di­rect rule call has May fac­ing cri­sis

Nelson Mail - - WORLD -

BRI­TAIN: Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May was yesterday fac­ing a po­lit­i­cal cri­sis in North­ern Ire­land af­ter the Demo­cratic Union­ist Party said power-shar­ing talks had col­lapsed and sug­gested a form of di­rect rule should be in­tro­duced once again.

The DUP, which props up the Con­ser­va­tive govern­ment in West­min­ster, re­fused to agree to Sinn Fein de­mands to in­tro­duce le­gal pro­tec­tions for the Ir­ish lan­guage, and said there was ‘‘no prospect’’ of a deal.

The cri­sis threat­ens to throw the Good Fri­day Agree­ment into jeop­ardy and is a blow to May’s au­thor­ity as she tries to fi­nalise a Brexit deal over the Ir­ish border.

She had raised hopes of a break­through 48 hours ear­lier dur­ing a visit to North­ern Ire­land af­ter meet­ing Ar­lene Fos­ter, the DUP leader.

How­ever, Fos­ter yesterday raised the prospect of a re­turn to di­rect rule, say­ing it was now up to Lon­don ‘‘to set a bud­get and start mak­ing pol­icy de­ci­sions about our schools, hos­pi­tals and in­fra­struc­ture’’.

The DUP’s lead ne­go­tia­tor said May’s visit to North­ern Ire­land on Tues­day to meet the par­ties had been a ‘‘dis­trac­tion’’ in the at­tempts to get talks go­ing, and sug­gested she should not have made the trip. Ur­gent talks are now likely to take place be­tween Lon­don and Dublin.

Sinn Fein is ex­pected for­mally to re­spond to­day to the break­down in talks, with se­nior of­fi­cials hop­ing a last-minute com­pro­mise can be found.

Karen Bradley, the North­ern Ire­land Sec­re­tary, will make a state­ment to Par­lia­ment next week. Yesterday she ad­mit­ted the govern­ment now had ‘‘un­com­fort­able de­ci­sions’’ to make.

Bradley’s only le­gal op­tion is to call an­other election in the prov­ince, but she could come un­der pres­sure from the DUP MPs not to do so if she wants to re­tain their sup­port for the mi­nor­ity Bri­tish govern­ment.

Govern­ment sources con­ceded that a re­turn to di­rect rule had now in­creased in like­li­hood.

One source said: ‘‘We are con­sid­er­ing prac­ti­cal steps and chal­leng­ing de­ci­sions have to be made, cer­tainly about a bud­get for North­ern Ire­land.’’

Yesterday Lord Man­del­son, a for­mer North­ern Ire­land sec­re­tary, warned the DUP to ‘‘re­flect long and hard on what is at stake’’.

‘‘This is very dis­ap­point­ing ... There has to be give and take in this process, on all sides, even when things seem dif­fi­cult to con­cede in the short term. This is a time for lead­er­ship.’’

Theresa Vil­liers, an­other for­mer North­ern Ire­land sec­re­tary, said a re­turn to di­rect rule ‘‘would be a big set­back’’.

‘‘There have been many set­backs in cross-party talks in Stor­mont over the years. Some of the is­sues un­der dis­cus­sion have di­vided opin­ion on the is­land of Ire­land for cen­turies,’’ she said.

A re­turn to di­rect rule for the first time since 2007 would threaten the Good Fri­day Agree­ment at a time when the con­tin­u­a­tion of the North­ern Ire­land peace process is seen as cru­cial in the Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions. Re­la­tions be­tween Lon­don and Dublin are al­ready strained over the Brexit talks, and the Ir­ish govern­ment might be less in­clined to ac­cept a deal on the border which has not been signed off by the North­ern Ire­land ex­ec­u­tive.

Di­rect rule can only be in­sti­tuted if a law is passed in Par­lia­ment giv­ing Bri­tish min­is­ters pow­ers to run Ul­ster.

For the past 13 months since the col­lapse of the ex­ec­u­tive in Jan­uary last year, the prov­ince has been run by civil ser­vants who have had to make spend­ing de­ci­sions them­selves.

James Bro­ken­shire, the thenNorth­ern Ire­land sec­re­tary, tried to solve the cri­sis by call­ing elec­tions in March which saw Sinn Fein come within 1000 votes of be­ing the largest party. Di­rect rule would be seen as a pre­ferred op­tion by Fos­ter, given Sinn Fein’s gains.

Fos­ter said: ‘‘In our view, there is no cur­rent prospect of these dis­cus­sions lead­ing to an ex­ec­u­tive be­ing formed. Im­por­tant de­ci­sions im­pact­ing on every­one in North­ern Ire­land have been sit­ting in limbo for too long.’’

Michelle O’Neill, the Sinn Fein leader, said: ‘‘The DUP failed to close the deal. They have now col­lapsed this process.

‘‘These is­sues are not go­ing away. Sinn Fein are now in con­tact with both govern­ments. The DUP should re­flect on their po­si­tion.’’

Leo Varad­kar, the Ir­ish Taoiseach, added: ‘‘I very much re­gret the state­ment from the DUP. Power-shar­ing and work­ing to­gether are the only way for­ward for North­ern Ire­land.’’

The Stor­mont govern­ment col­lapsed last year in a row over a botched green en­ergy scheme. Since then, di­vi­sions over is­sues in­clud­ing Ir­ish lan­guage rights, same-sex mar­riage and the legacy of North­ern Ire­land’s trou­bled past have proved in­sur­mount­able.

– Tele­graph Group

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