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'Bring Northern Ireland's politicians together and lock the door' until deal says former NI secretary



The locked gates at Stormont in Belfast (Niall Carson/PA)

The locked gates at Stormont in Belfast (Niall Carson/PA)

The locked gates at Stormont in Belfast (Niall Carson/PA)

The Government has been told to bring the parties in Northern Ireland together for powersharing talks and "lock the doors" until the stalemate is broken.

The demand for action aimed at restoring devolved government at Stormont came as peers raised concerns over the continuing "state of paralysis".

Ministers at Westminster said reestablishing an executive was the "single most important priority", and acknowledged the "heavy and onerous burden" placed on civil servants, who have had to take over day-to-day running of public services.

Powersharing has been on hold since January last year after a row between coalition partners the DUP and Sinn Fein over a botched green energy scheme, which has widened to include a range of identity issues like the place of the Irish language.

Labour former Northern Ireland secretary Lord Hain argued "the longer the assembly and the executive are down, the harder it is to get back up".

He urged the Government to draw on past lessons in overcoming obstacles in Northern Ireland and called for the Prime Minister Theresa May to convene a summit, along with the Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

Lord Hain added: "And keep the parties at that summit ... until there is an agreement. I believe strongly that is the only solution in sight."

Northern Ireland Minister Lord Duncan of Springbank said: "Nothing is off the table."

Labour leader in the Lords Baroness Smith of Basildon said: "The Government has to get round the table and lock the doors until they come out with an agreement."

Lord Duncan said: "There is now a necessity that we must find a way of restoring good governance to Northern Ireland."

He added that "the preferred option, the sensible option, the right option" was to have an executive at Stormont.

Former Ulster Unionist leader Lord Empey highlighted a recent Belfast High Court judgment which blocked an incinerator plant because a senior civil servant did not have the power to approve the planning application.

Lord Empey said: "As a consequence, all significant decisions that have hitherto been taken by senior civil servants have now stopped.

"How can the minister and the Government honour the commitments to ensure the effective and efficient delivery of public services to the people of Northern Ireland with this state of paralysis that has now ensued?"

Lord Duncan said the Government was studying very carefully the judgment, which may be appealed.

"It is a reminder that we do need that restored executive because we cannot keep placing upon the shoulders of civil servants such a heavy and onerous burden," he added.

Lord Duncan told peers: "We need to get the executive back up and running ... at the moment the pilot light is on but no-one is twirling those knobs."

Independent Ulster Unionist peer Lord Maginnis of Drumglass claimed Mr Varadkar was "in cahoots" with Sinn Fein to block the restoration of devolved institutions.

Belfast Telegraph