Northern Ireland facing direct rule for five years, warns Ian Paisley
Stormont stalemate 'is walking us into five years of direct rule'
Northern Ireland is facing the prospect of a five-year period of direct rule, a senior DUP MP has claimed.
In the starkest warning yet over the implications of the crisis facing Stormont, Ian Paisley said that Sinn Fein had backed itself into a corner from which it could not escape.
The North Antrim MP said another period of administration from Westminster would end the province's hopes of gaining control of corporation tax rates as well as negotiated improvements to the welfare reforms.
He also said it would mean water charges being introduced here.
Writing in today's Belfast Telegraph, Mr Paisley argued that the Assembly had now reached a level of "toxicity" in the unionist community.
His comments come against the backdrop of an ongoing stalemate over welfare reform and departmental budgets which threatens to result in the collapse of devolved government, potentially as early as the autumn.
The son of the former First Minister argued that direct rule was inevitable if the Assembly collapsed as a result of the stand-off.
His party leader Peter Robinson has already made clear the DUP would not want to go back into another power-sharing administration with Sinn Fein - without new inter-party negotiations first.
Mr Paisley's warning came after he asked Secretary of State Theresa Villiers if she was making preparations for the collapse of Stormont.
"I don't think we are at that point yet," she replied, but added: "The situation is grave. There is a threat to the continued effectiveness of the institutions and a threat to a potential collapse."
In his article, Mr Paisley said that despite the good work the Assembly is involved in, its "toxicity over the current crisis has damaged its stock in the unionist community. I got that on the doors during the Westminster election".
He said that despite the good efforts of MLAs and ministers, "the never-ending crisis on simple management and holding to agreements made has undermined the further success of the Assembly.
"Unionists too must be aware of the fact that direct rule is no paragon of virtue for us. Direct rule was never our real friend."
But he also warned that the Dublin government, which was involved in the negotiations which led to last December's Stormont House Agreement, will seek a role to play in a direct rule scenario which "causes concern".
"So a period of up to five years of direct rule could be a real possibility," he said.
It was Mr Paisley who in the run-up to the general election in May said the price of DUP support for either a Conservative or Labour government could amount to £1bn.At that point the DUP was in a position to become 'kingmakers', with the consensus of opinion polls and commentators pointing to a hung Parliament.
The DUP still points to its potential influence given Prime Minister David Cameron's narrow House of Commons majority.
In his article, however, he emphasised: "The fact is unionists need to be in control of the province even with all the checks and balances that the current regime impose.
"After all, local people can run this place more effectively than direct rule ministers."