Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has warned that Northern Ireland is “sliding towards” direct rule from Britain after the collapse of talks between Sinn Féin and the DUP about forming a government.
The warning was repeated by Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney and British secretary for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire.
Mr Varadkar insisted any new direct rule system must be different from the past and “honour” all parts of the 1998 Good Friday agreement.
In a day of drama, talks between Sinn Féin and the DUP designed to end an eight-month stand-off on forming a new government fell apart yesterday as the parties failed to find agreement on key issues.
The situation, which is underlined by both parties’ ongoing dispute over the Irish language act but stretches to a series of other problems in the province, led to Mr Brokenshire confirming he is likely to have to put the Northern Ireland budget to Westminster this month.
Such a move would in effect lead to direct rule returning to Northern Ireland for the first time since the 1998 Good Friday agreement.
Speaking in the US at the start of three days of meetings with multinationals such as Apple, Facebook, and Google, Mr Varadkar said he still believes a deal can be struck.
However, in a warning for the North’s devolved assembly, he said it is “sliding towards” direct rule from Britain unless a deal can be agreed.
“We are of course concerned we are now sliding towards direct rule, the fact a budget may have to go to Westminster rather than Stormont is in many ways the first step to restoration of direct rule,” he said.
“It’s the position of the Irish Government that we can’t support the restoration of direct rule in the form that existed before the Good Friday agreement.
“If it’s not possible for the DUP and Sinn Féin to form a government, and if the British government has to step in, then direct rule is going to have to be different than before.
“We would expect all the provisions of the Good Friday agreement to be honoured and that would include working through bodies like the British Irish [Intergovernmental] conference and trying to work institutions in the absence of an executive,” he said.
The view was repeated by Mr Coveney, who told RTE Radio’s News at One programme that the situation means Northern Ireland’s parties are taking a step back towards direct rule from Britain.
“It is certainly a step in the direction of direct rule, which is certainly not a place we want to be in,” said Mr Coveney, who has been at the centre of the talks in recent months.
The risk of direct rule could still be avoided if both parties return to the talks table and form an 11th-hour agreement, an issue which, it is understood, both Dublin and London believe could still happen — party members have been warned their Stormont salaries will be scrapped if a deal is not done.
However, while DUP leader Arlene Foster and Sinn Féin’s leader in Northern Ireland Michelle O’Neill remain open to further discussion, neither party has said they are willing to back down on key issues at the centre of their stand-off.
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