Belfast Telegraph

'Tragedy' of direct rule is inevitable if governments don't get a grip: Hain

By Rebecca Black

Former Northern Ireland Secretary of State Peter Hain has claimed the province is heading towards a return to direct rule - and blamed Prime Minister Theresa May for taking her eye off the ball.

Lord Hain served as Secretary of State from 2005 to 2007.

He said the current talks impasse had been created because no one was driving them forward and called for the Prime Minister to step up.

He claimed there had been a shocking dereliction of responsibility by London and Dublin, and said there should have been a high-level summit led by Mrs May and the Taoiseach months ago in order to prevent the current stalemate developing.

Stormont collapsed in January when former Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness resigned over questions surrounding the Renewable Heat Incentive, forcing an Assembly election.

Politicians have since failed to agree a deal to get the institutions up and running again.

Now Lord Hain said he can't see where else Northern Ireland is heading but direct rule.

He said: "That would be a tragedy. I thought I would be the last direct rule Secretary of State in 2007 when we got self-governing up and running."

Speaking on the BBC's Sunday Politics Show, Lord Hain added that "everybody is in the same place and that is the problem".

"The truth is there has been a shocking dereliction of responsibility by both governments, both the British Government and the Irish Government," he said.

"There is nobody at the helm, no one is taking any initiatives to really drive this forward.

Lord Hain said if he was still Secretary of State that he would take away MLAs' expenses if there was no visible progress at the talks, and also the party funding from Stormont.

"Clearly the deadlines mean nothing and that means you don't have any credibility as a British Government if you set deadlines which are not then met," he added.

"The buck should stop at Number 10 and in Dublin. They have not taken charge. That's where the main problem lies."

But UUP MLA Doug Beattie said the crisis flowed from decisions taken following the St Andrews Agreement, when Lord Hain was Secretary of State.

"Suspected terrorists have been given letters of comfort and the royal prerogative of mercy has been extended to an unknown number to terrorists," he said.

"This has destroyed public confidence in the judicial process with people believing rightly that more was done for IRA sympathisers while members of the security forces come under particular focus.

"Peter Hain needs to look at his own role in all of this before issuing condemnations of the current governments."

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