Northern Ireland a ‘disaster’ and UK government has ‘responsibility to step in’, says former Stormont speaker

John Alderdice, leader of Alliance Party at time of signing of Belfast Agreement, made comments while giving evidence to committee in Westminster

Northern Ireland is a “disaster” and the UK government has a “responsibility to step in and do something,” a former Stormont speaker has said.

John Alderdice, who was the leader of the Alliance Party at the time of the signing of the Belfast Agreement in 1998, also said the British and Irish governments must reflect “on what they need to do if they truly are committed signatories of the agreement”.

He was giving evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in Westminster on Wednesday as part of its investigation into the effectiveness of the institutions set up under the agreement.

The North has been without a functioning Assembly or Executive for more than a year because of a DUP boycott over post-Brexit trading arrangements.


The Tánaiste, Micheál Martin, was in Belfast on Wednesday for meetings with the Northern political parties aimed at restoring the Stormont institutions.

“There is not proper governance in Northern Ireland by any account,” the former speaker said. “It’s a disaster, with its health, with its education, with almost everything else. It’s a disaster, and it’s getting worse all the time.

“The question for me is, how long does the British government stand back from its responsibilities in respect of ensuring proper governance for the people of part of the United Kingdom?”

He also said London needed to “think carefully about how long it allows this to drift on, because we’re assuming the Assembly will come back at the end of this year ... if it doesn’t, how long does this continue on?

“Somebody, somewhere has to start making decisions about things, not just endless conversations, and it seems to me that responsibility devolves back to the British government to make sure [of] proper governance and the British and Irish governments together to fulfil the agreement insofar as that is possible.”

Also appearing before the committee, the former deputy first minister, the ex-SDLP MLA Mark Durkan, said there needed to be a “sense of the permanence of the Assembly and the institutions.”

The collapse of the Assembly “has to be made undoable and unthinkable,” he said.

“The problem is at the minute it is too readily thinkable, and it is doable, and if it isn’t occurring to parties themselves other people are then saying parties should show they’re serious by saying they’ll walk out and they’ll pull things down, and that needs to be removed as too cheap a temptation.”

The former first minister, Arlene Foster, said she was no longer in the DUP but it supported devolution and conversations were ongoing to “try and find a way forward”.

“They’ll get to a point where they can come back to the Assembly again, because it is important to have ministers making those decisions for the good of the people of Northern Ireland.”

During her evidence to the committee the former first minister also condemned the “glorification of terrorism” in Northern Ireland and said the presence of senior members of Sinn Féin at events commemorating members of the IRA was “wrong”.

The Sinn Féin MP John Finucane is due to be the main speaker an event on Sunday advertised as a “South Armagh Volunteers Commemoration”.

Speaking to reporters in Belfast on Wednesday following his party’s meeting with the Tánaiste, the Sinn Féin MP Conor Murphy described the controversy as “distraction politics” and the “real issue is the fact that public services are crashing around our ears, that the DUP are refusing to go back into the Executive.”

Mr Murphy said “we have a situation now where a commemorative event which has taken place annually for well over a decade and has involved high-profile Sinn Féin speakers is now an issue.”

“Everybody has the right to commemorate their dead in a dignified way, and we support everyone’s right to commemorate their dead in a dignified way.”

The former first minister said such “glorifying events” were “not just about the past and it’s not just about remembering our dead, it’s actually about sending a message to young people today that what happened in the past was somehow okay and what happened in the past was somehow justified, and it wasn’t justified.

She said that in any talks or negotiations “I hope there is a strong focus on not sending negative messages to the past, to the future, which result in violence, which results in the normalisation of violence and results in people thinking it’s okay to come up and say to a victim, ‘Ooh, ah, up the ‘Ra’.

“That’s wrong, and I really think we have a problem around the glorification of terrorism in Northern Ireland, and we can ignore it and it will continue, or we can deal with it.”

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times