Governance in Northern Ireland would probably involve a joint arrangement between the UK and Irish governments if power-sharing is not restored at Stormont, Michelle O’Neill has said.
The Sinn Féin leader in the North reiterated her call on the DUP to end its blockade on devolution in Belfast following the deal on post-Brexit trade struck by London and Brussels last week.
Unionists have previously reacted angrily to any suggestion of Irish involvement in the governance of Northern Ireland in the absence of devolution.
While Ms O’Neill expressed a “cautious welcome” for the overall Windsor Framework deal she said her party had some concerns about its ‘Stormont brake’ and the potential for it to create further problems around the application of future EU laws in Northern Ireland.
She said the result of last May’s Assembly election has to be honoured and powers-haring restored.
“We obviously had a very historic election last May. For the very first time, a nationalist was returned as first minister, and I am in the position of first minister-designate,” she told Sky News.
“The DUP have failed to honour that election to this point, but I still hope they will get to that point, because power-sharing is how politics works in the North.
“We have a special and unique circumstance because of the Good Friday Agreement and there isn’t any other alternative. In fact, probably the alternative to power-sharing would be some arrangement between the British and Irish government.”
The Stormont parties are due to receive briefings from UK government officials in the coming days on how the brake will operate.
The mechanism offers a minority of MLAs (30 from at least two parties) the ability to refer to the UK government its concerns about the introduction of new EU laws in Northern Ireland.
The UK government could then potentially veto the application of those laws in the region.
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Maros Sefcovic, has dismissed any suggestion that the ‘Stormont brake’ gives the UK an effective veto over any new EU rules that would affect Northern Ireland.
In a recording obtained by The Telegraph, in which he debriefed members of the European Parliament’s Brexit committees on the deal, he said: “This [Stormont brake] is very much limited in the scope, and it’s really under very strict conditions.
“On top of that, if we do not feel convinced, we have our joint bodies to deal with this issue, or eventually this case could be presented to the arbitration. If we don’t feel the third parties’ perspective, we will have the possibility to take limited remedial measures because we can tell them it’s affecting the functioning of our single market.”
He also said the European Court of Justice will still oversee swathes of EU rules that continue to apply in Northern Ireland.