The Government has asked to convene a British-Irish body that will give Dublin a greater say in the running of the North in the absence of an executive.
Tánaiste Simon Coveney heads to Belfast today and has asked for the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference to meet.
It is a decade since the special body last met and its convening signals that relations in the North between unionist and republicans are unlikely to heal soon.
Mr Coveney’s office denied that the request was a possible step closer to direct rule amid the impasse.
He told the Dáil he had made the request to secretary of state for the North Karen Bradley.
He said: “I felt it would be appropriate at this stage to have that structure enacted so both governments could formally discuss the various options they need to consider around a budget for Northern Ireland, how we take our next steps getting a devolved government back up and running in Northern Ireland, and other practical issues that can and should be raised on an east-west basis between the two governments.”
Ray Bassett, a former Irish diplomat, recently said any return of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference was a sign that the North was heading for direct rule.
Mr Bassett served as the body’s Irish joint secretary from 2001 to 2005. The body last met in 2007.
“The conference I would see very much as a fall-back position,” he said. “If Dublin or London talks are going quietly, well then, obviously you wouldn’t want to antagonise local parties, particularly the DUP, by having the conference. I think if you had the conference it would be a sign that we’re possibly battening down for a period of direct rule.”
The British government has moved to impose a budget directly on the North, prompting calls from Sinn Féin for the conference.
The Government still wants the DUP and Sinn Féin to sit down again and attempt to restore a devolved government next month.
Meanwhile, Mr Coveney has dismissed claims by the opposition that the Government will reward developers with billions of euro to supply social housing.
Speaking ahead of a national demonstration on housing on April 7, Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett noted comments by developer Richard Barrett at the weekend that he would be “the biggest provider of social housing outside the State as part of the Rebuilding Ireland plan”.
With 1,200 State-paid units being built by the developer and rents on top of that, he would make huge profits, claimed Mr Boyd Barrett.
“The fact that most of them will be built in areas such as Dublin and the urban centres means that the cost will be much higher.,” he said. “Where average rents are higher, we are talking almost certainly in excess of €0.5bn for 1,200 units.”
Billions of euro would go to all developers involved in social housing paid for the State, said Mr Boyd Barrett.
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