Belfast Telegraph

As Theresa May hands out raft of new powers to Northern Ireland Executive, politicians lament Stormont deadlock

By Suzanne Breen

It is ‘farcical’ that Northern Ireland won’t be able to take up a raft of new powers being transferred to devolved administrations across the UK after Brexit because the Stormont institutions are in deadlock, TUV leader Jim Allister has said.

And SDLP MLA Claire Hanna said it was “ridiculous” that while politicians in Scotland, England and Wales were preparing to wield the new powers, our MLAs were “squabbling and actively avoiding taking responsibility”.

In her Article 50 letter triggering Brexit yesterday, Prime Minister Theresa May said that some of the powers returning from the EU would reside in Westminster — but others would be devolved to the regions.

“It is the expectation of the government that the outcome of this process will be a significant increase in the decision-making power of each devolved administration,” she said.

Responding to Mrs May’s announcement, Mr Allister said: “The responsibility for devising agriculture, environmental and probably fisheries policies will now most likely fall to devolved governments.

“Until now we have only been able to rubber-stamp and implement Brussels’ decisions.

“But it is ironic that we are now getting these powers when we are in no position to take them up with neither a functioning Executive or Assembly.”

Mr Allister said that our politicians hadn’t proved themselves capable of taking on any additional responsibilities.

“Given the record of Stormont and its inability to cope with the limited powers it had, I shudder to think how they’d handle extra duties.”

Claire Hanna said the fast-changing situation with Brexit showed the need for functioning political institutions at Stormont.

“As new powers are up for grabs with the triggering of Article 50, it is insanity that Northern Ireland currently doesn’t have an Executive,” she said.

“Given the chaos that Brexit is bringing, it is ridiculous that we have no devolved administration in place.

“While politicians in Scotland, England and Wales are preparing to wield new powers, our MLAs are spending their time squabbling and actively avoiding taking responsibility for anything.”

Sinn Fein’s Stormont leader, Michelle O’Neill, said that the campaign to secure special designated status for Northern Ireland post-Brexit was building momentum across Europe and she urged the Irish government to “step up” its efforts.

She dismissed claims that such a concession would be unachievable in the forthcoming negotiations.

“Brexit would be a disaster for Ireland, socially, politically and economically. It is unacceptable that Tories, who have no mandate in Ireland, can impose Brexit and a border against our will,” she said.

“The people of the north voted against Brexit in a democratic poll. Clearly we need special status — we are building momentum and that argument is resonating across Europe.”

DUP MP Nigel Dodds said the triggering of Article 50 represented a historic day for the UK. “It is a good day for the Union and importantly our democracy, as the rights of those who voted on June 23 have been upheld,” he said.

“Theresa May continues to rightly emphasis her determination to deliver for all the constituent parts of the UK, despite the moans from others who have sought to undermine the EU referendum result and reverse Brexit.

“We joined the European Union as a nation and we will leave together.

“The reality is Brexit has indeed meant Brexit and now our duty is to ensure delivery.”

Mr Dodds said that it was important that strong arguments were made at the talks table to secure the best deal for the devolved regions.

“Northern Ireland with its team at Westminster has that influence which will be needed in Brexit negotiations.

“However, that influence is only bolstered by a functioning Executive which is able to protect the best interests of Northern Ireland,” he added.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood described the triggering of Article 50 “against the wishes of people in Northern Ireland” and at a time when there is no power-sharing executive as “an act of savagery against our democracy”.

He urged all the local parties to unite around a common position on Brexit.

He said: “Brexit is the single greatest threat to prosperity and stability facing this island since partition. The British Government’s Brexit juggernaut is about to smash through the fragile complexities of Irish politics.

“Dragging us out of Europe against the will of our people and while we have no executive isn’t just an affront to the principles of devolution, it’s an act of democratic savagery.”

However, Ulster Unionist MP Tom Elliott welcomed the triggering of Article 50.

He said it was vital that Northern Ireland interests were considered by the government in coming negotiations.

“Unfortunately at this crucial time, we have no Northern Ireland executive in place to lobby the government as negotiations progress,” Mr Elliott said.

“But in the Prime Minister’s statement, she reaffirmed her commitment to ensure there will be no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and that the Common Travel Area should be maintained.

“A successful resolution to this issue is crucial, particularly for those who live along the border, who often cross it on a daily basis for work or leisure.

“We must ensure that the border does not become subject to increased illegal activity after Brexit.”

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