Flanagan welcomes British reluctance to return to direct rule

Gerry Adams calls for election, says Northern Secretary’s contribution ‘less than helpful’

The Minister for Foreign Affairs has strongly welcomed the confirmation by Northern Secretary James Brokenshire that Britain does not want a return to direct rule over the North by Westminster.

Charlie Flanagan told the Dáil on Wednesday that there was no statutory provision at Westminster for direct rule, following its removal as part of the St Andrews Agreement more than 10 years ago.

Opening a debate on Northern Ireland, Mr Flanagan said he remained firmly convinced that all parties in the North wanted to see devolved institutions restored, despite the failure to meet Monday's deadline.

“The only route to that goal is through continuing respectful dialogue that recognises the need for both honouring previous commitments and for honourable compromise now,’’ he added.

The Minister said Mr Brokenshire, who had statutory responsibility for the next steps, had indicated that a short additional window of time might be available to find an agreed basis to re-establish the Executive.

Redouble efforts

“In the immediate days ahead, I expect to be in touch with the Secretary of State to finalise the details for these additional and finite discussions,’’ Mr Flanagan added.

“In these urgent circumstances and with time in short supply, all concerned must redouble efforts to achieve the re-establishment of power-sharing government in Northern Ireland, which is so plainly in the interests of all its citizens.’’

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said Mr Brokenshire's contribution had been less than helpful, and that it was not acceptable for him to tell the House of Commons that the British government would consider all options after the Easter deadline. Those would include direct rule, he added.

"Mr Brokenshire has only one option and that is to call an election,'' said Mr Adams. "There is no legal basis for any other course of action.''

Mr Adams said he had no objection to Mr Brokenshire leaving time for further discussions, but he said Sinn Féin is totally opposed to, and would look to the Irish Government to oppose, any new legislation to bring back direct rule.

Problem parties

He rejected the "narrative, rehearsed in the Dáil from the Taoiseach and the Fianna Fáil leader'', that there were two problem parties in the North.

“That is not the case,’’ he added. “The recent endorsement by the electorate of Martin McGuinness’s decision to resign is clear evidence of this.’’

The Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin, said his party had for a number of years been consistent in pointing to the dangers posed by the behaviour of the two parties in government in the North.

“For some time, this was angrily denied by them and their cheerleaders, but the gross dysfunction of how they have run the Executive meant that a deep impasse was inevitable,’’ he said.

“They have consistently failed to show respect for the core principles of the agreement and, in particular, for the requirement that the Executive operate in an open and inclusive manner.”

Michael O'Regan

Michael O'Regan

Michael O’Regan is a former parliamentary correspondent of The Irish Times