Belfast Telegraph

UK government rules out British-Irish joint rule for Northern Ireland

British-Irish joint rule is not an option for Northern Ireland, the British Government has insisted.

British Northern Ireland minister Lord Dunlop ruled out any possibility of joint London-Dublin governance if attempts to establish devolution fail after the Stormont assembly elections.

Speaking in the UK's House of Lords, Lord Dunlop said the British government is "fully committed to the Belfast Agreement, including the principle of consent governing Northern Ireland's constitutional position".

He added: "It is on that basis that Northern Ireland is and remains a full part of the UK, and clearly any form of joint authority would be incompatible with the consent principle.

"The government priority remains to work intensively to ensure that after the assembly elections strong, stable devolved government is re-established in Northern Ireland."

Lord Dunlop was responding to a question from Lord Lexden, who asked for confirmation there would be "no moves whatsoever towards joint authority".

Britain's Northern Ireland secretary of state James Brokenshire was forced to announce an election on Monday after Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness resigned as Northern Ireland's deputy first minister in a feud with coalition partners the Democratic Unionists over a massively overspent eco-boiler scheme.

The collapse of power-sharing has led nationalist opposition party the SDLP to call for joint London and Dublin rule if an administration in Belfast cannot be formed after the March 2 elections.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said if the parties in the assembly fail to piece together a devolved administration, there could be no return to direct rule with London-based ministers in charge of the region.

Britain's former Northern Ireland secretary of state Peter Hain accused the UK government of being "hands off rather than hands on during this escalating crisis".

He told Lord Dunlop in the House of Lords: "Clearly, the parties, since their relations deteriorated so terribly, are not going to sort this out on their own, even after an election.

"It is vital that the secretary of state and the prime minister convenes meetings to bring the parties together and that they do so with the Taoiseach as well.

"The Irish Government is very influential and must be brought in."

Lord Dunlop said: "Both the prime minister and secretary of state have been very actively engaged in talking to the Taoiseach and parties in Northern Ireland, and we will continue to leave no stone unturned to ensure we are in the best possible position after the election to re-establish a fully-functioning executive."

The region will go to the polls in March to elect a reduced 90 Stormont Assembly members just 10 months after the last vote.

The move was triggered by the fracturing of the power-sharing deal between Sinn Fein and the DUP.

Mr McGuinness quit last week, citing irreconcilable differences with the DUP.

The deadline for Sinn Fein to renominate to the vacant post before an election had to be called passed on Monday evening.

Mr McGuinness's resignation was precipitated by the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scandal - a botched green energy scheme overseen by DUP ministers set to cost Stormont 564 million euro (£490 million).

The row has also reignited a range of other vexed disputes dividing the coalition.

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