Thursday 13 December 2018

Direct rule of Northern Ireland by London not an option - Taoiseach

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Justin Farrelly
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Justin Farrelly
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Direct rule of Northern Ireland from London is not an option amid the ongoing standoff between Sinn Féin and the DUP, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

The Irish and British governments are planning fresh efforts to reinstate the Assembly in Belfast - but Mr Varadkar has warned time is running out.

It will be a year on January 16 since the late Martin McGuinness sparked an election in protest at Arlene Foster's alleged involvement in a renewable heat incentive scandal.

A number of deadlines set by the UK government for the re-establishment of power-sharing have passed, leading Mr Varadkar to say there are now "two options".

"There first option is another set of elections, which is an option, although it's hard to see what outcome would raise from that that would put us in a better position," he said.

"The second option is convening the British-Irish governmental conference, which would allow the two governments to implement the Good Friday Agreement in the absence of an assembly and executive in Northern Ireland.

"So, 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."

There has been much political debate about the potential of a return to direct rule, but Mr Varadkar categorically ruled out the prospect.

"We won't be supporting direct rule. We didn't support direct rule," he said.

Asked whether he was suggesting some form of 'joint rule', Mr Varadkar replied: "I wouldn't use the term joint rule, because that's not the term used in the Good Friday Agreement.

"The Good Friday Agreement speaks of a British-Irish governmental conference, which is not joint rule, because obviously the legislative powers remain at Westminster, but it does involve real and meaningful involvement of the Irish Government."

But the Taoiseach said that would be a last resort after further efforts to get a deal between Sinn Féin and the DUP.

He said he was also "very conscious" that there are a number of other parties in Northern Ireland that have a role to play. "And I'm certain the Tánaiste and I will be meeting them over the course of January, and doing anything we can do to get those institutions up and running again," he said.

Speaking to reporters at an end of year briefing, Mr Varadkar also said he would be making efforts to improve relations with Theresa May's government in the new year.

"Relations obviously are a little bit strained, and they've been challenged by the events of recent months," he said, referencing the dispute over the potential for a hard Border after Brexit.

"The reason relations have become strained is because of Brexit. Brexit was not our policy. Brexit was a decision of the UK people, which we respect, and is being pursued by the government in the UK," he said.

"What has strained relations is that decision. But we need to be grown up about it. And we need to get on with it, and try to get the best outcome for the Irish people. I would speak with Prime Minister May probably every two weeks, and we do, I believe, have a shared and common objective, which is to get the best outcome for our people, for her the best outcome for the United Kingdom, for me the best outcome for Irish people, both here in this State and in Northern Ireland."

Irish Independent

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