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UUP's Lord Trimble calls on Brokenshire to hand power to Northern Ireland Assembly

Anger if Brokenshire kicks can further down road - Eastwood

By Jonathan Bell

Former Northern Ireland first minister and UUP leader Lord Trimble has again called for power to be transferred to the Northern Ireland Assembly given the ongoing deadlock in the political talks.

On Monday Secretary of State James Brokenshire will address the Commons after the deadline to broker a deal to restore the institutions passed without agreement last week.

Read more: Stormont crisis: Direct rule now looking unlikely as talks set to be put on ice

Speaking to Sky News, the former first minister Lord Trimble said direct rule should not be an option for the government minister, saying it would be retrograde, "unhealthy for local democracy" and that there would be difficulties in restoring devolution should power return to Westminster.

Instead he said the Secretary of State should "disregard the veto" both the DUP and Sinn Fein effectively hold over the sitting of the Assembly and moves should be made to allow its 90 members to sit and act as they were intended to do after the March election.

He said: "He [Mr Brokenshire] should bear in mind that it really is impossible to have situation where one party which has less than one third of the members of the Assembly that can veto the sitting of that Assembly. He should look at ways the Assembly should meet and do business and he should do that quite soon.

"There is a mood that has developed that we have 90 MLAs all drawing a salary, but not doing anything."

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Lord Trimble said there would need to be "minor changes" to the law to allow the Assembly to sit: "The present arrangements give the largest two parties a veto over the Assembly sitting and secretary of state should disregard that veto and allow it to meet and function.

"It could meet in a large number of ways, which may not be as efficient as having an Executive. You do not necessarily need an Executive. The Welsh Assembly operated for five or six years without an Executive."

"Less efficient perhaps, there would have to be legislation which vested the administration collectively in the Assembly, creating a corporate Assembly the way they had in wales."

Asked on the future of the DUP, he added: "We have been in this situation before in regard to parliamentary seats, but we still have seats in the Assembly and local government.

"We, like the SDLP, have significant holding in Assembly and local government. Sinn Fein and the DUP would like to see rival parties disappear, but that is not good for democracy."

Meanwhile SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said there would be anger if Mr Brokenshire "kicked the can further down the road" in terms of imposing a new deadline on talks.

He added: "I urge him to ensure that direct rule is not the price that the people of Northern Ireland will have to pay for the political failure of the big two.

“The immediate priority to secure and safeguard the future of our public services and the jobs of public sector workers must be agreed. It is incumbent on all of us, as political leaders, to restore confidence in our politics and stability without delay.

“I would also urge the Irish government to fully exert its responsibility and role to ensure that the North is not placed at the mercy of a Tory/DUP coalition. In the continuing absence of a local Assembly, the Irish government must be centrally involved in order to retain the hard won political balance which underpins Northern politics.”

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