North is ‘sliding towards direct rule’, Leo Varadkar warns

Taoiseach says Government cannot accept a return to pre-Belfast Agreement rule

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has warned that Northern Ireland is ‘sliding towards direct rule’. Photograph: Ilmars Znotins/AFP/Getty

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has warned that Northern Ireland is ‘sliding towards direct rule’. Photograph: Ilmars Znotins/AFP/Getty

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has warned that Northern Ireland is “sliding towards direct rule” after the DUP and Sinn Féin failed in their talks to reinstate the Northern Executive and Assembly.

The Taoiseach said the Government could not accept the form of direct rule that existed prior to the 1998 Belfast Agreement.

Sinn Féin’s northern leader Michelle O’Neill said the talks broke down over the DUP’s refusal to sign up to a number of “rights issues” including an Irish language Act, same-sex marriage, the holding of outstanding Troubles-related inquests and a bill of rights for Northern Ireland.

East Derry DUP MP Gregory Campbell accused Sinn Féin of demanding a “shopping list of preconditions” before it would agree to restore Stormont.

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams said the talks had been a “failure” but he did not rule out continuing engagement with the DUP.

“This has been a failure. There has been progress made but we have failed to put together the institutions and we are identifying that failure very, very clearly as being the responsibility on the one hand of the DUP and the British government. That is where the failure lies,” he said.

Westminster budget

Northern secretary James Brokenshire acknowledged on Wednesday that, after weeks of negotiations, the DUP and Sinn Féin could not bridge the gaps between them. He said he must now begin bringing in a budget for Northern Ireland from Westminster – a move Sinn Féin previously warned would mean the failure and end of this phase of negotiations.

Mr Brokenshire also said he would be seeking “independent advice” on what to do about Assembly members continuing to receive their annual salaries of £49,500.

The DUP has insisted that even in the absence of a sitting Northern Executive, the British government would abide by its commitment to provide an additional £1 billion in funding for Northern Ireland in return for propping up Theresa’s May’s Conservative government. This was also confirmed by a Downing Street source yesterday.

‘Outstanding differences’

Mr Varadkar, speaking in Seattle, expressed concern Northern Ireland was “sliding towards direct rule” but said his Government was not giving up on the DUP and Sinn Féin resolving their outstanding differences.

“I think it’s important to say that there really isn’t a huge gap now between Sinn Féin and the DUP. I actually think there is enough common ground to allow the two parties to form an executive in Northern Ireland if the political will is there to do so,” he said.

“It is the position of the Irish Government that we can’t support a return to direct rule in the form that existed prior to the Good Friday [Belfast] Agreement,” he added. “If it’s not possible for the DUP and Sinn Féin to form a government in Northern Ireland and if the British government has to step in, direct rule is going to have to be different and we’ll expect all of the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement to be honoured,” said Mr Varadkar.