Taoiseach Micheál Martin has warned that there can be no return to direct rule from London if the Northern Ireland Executive is not restored.
Mr Martin, who was due to speak on Wednesday to new British prime minister Rishi Sunak, said the Government will “fully pursue its consultative role under the Good Friday Agreement” if the DUP continues its block on restoration of the Northern Ireland institutions.
Friday is the deadline for the Northern Ireland parties to restore the Executive and avoid elections before the end of the year, after elections just six months ago.
The Taoiseach again appealed to the DUP to rejoin the Executive and said that was his preference but he told Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald that if the political deadlock continued there would be no return to the direct rule from London that applied in the past.
He pointed out that the Belfast Agreement in 1998 recognised the Government’s “special interest” in Northern Ireland affairs. It provided for Dublin and London to follow a joint and more direct role in administering Northern Ireland’s affairs, and on issues not devolved to Stormont’s structures.
“In the event that we have a sustained period with no functioning of the Northern Ireland Executive or the Assembly, there cannot be a return to the direct rule arrangements of the past.
“And the Government will fully pursue its consultative role under the Good Friday Agreement.”
He said “that is the position, that we will exhaust every possibility within that framework”.
Raising the issue during leaders’ questions in the wake of the appointment of the new British prime minister and Friday’s deadline, Ms McDonald appealed to the DUP to join the Executive.
She said the parties should work together and co-operate in facing citizens’ problems with the cost of living, energy, housing, and health.
Ms McDonald stressed that a form of joint sovereignty between Dublin and London was the alternative if the DUP continued to block the Executive and not direct rule from London.
Noting the Taoiseach’s scheduled call with Mr Sunak on Wednesday, she said the new leader’s arrival offered solutions to both the row over the North’s post-Brexit special trade status and the power-sharing deadlock.
“This can be a chance for a fresh start. The question is will it be?” Ms McDonald said.
Mr Martin said he would tell Mr Sunak that businesses in the North like the special trade status they have through the controversial Northern Ireland protocol.
He said British legislation to undo parts of it would badly disrupt business and have a “very serious” negative effect on the food sector.
The Taoiseach said that former prime minister Liz Truss “to be fair, did indicate to me a resolve” to deal with the matter.
“I hope the new prime minister will agree with me that negotiation is the preferred option,” he said.
He added that “Europe stands ready to be flexible in terms of all matters pertaining to the protocol”.