Belfast Telegraph

Good Friday Agreement is dead and the Secretary of State must bring in direct rule now, says TUV leader

By Rebecca Black

The Belfast Agreement is dead and the parties need to move on, TUV leader Jim Allister is set to tell his party conference today.

He is also expected to call on Secretary of State Karen Bradley to "get a move on" and deliver direct rule after 15 months of no government.

His speech comes following a week of events marking the 20th anniversary of the historic 1998 agreement.

But Mr Allister last night blasted those for what he described as "celebrating failure" and urged the DUP to move on.

He also said that he will only participate in a new round of talks if the discussions are aimed at finding a new way forward.

The North Antrim MLA said he will emphasise in his leader's address the importance of the Brexit deal, urging that it needs to be an "emphatic leaving".

"I will say tomorrow that there is an even more important question than devolution and that is Brexit," he said.

"Getting it right is essential not only to our future but the nation's future, and it has to be a clean break from the EU; it has to be an emphatic leaving so that we have the opportunity to make our own trade deals, pass our own laws, adjudicate our own laws, and spend our own money on our own people.

"Brexit will set the course of the UK for several generations to come and therefore it is the most important issue that must be got right for Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK."

But there will also be an examination of the legacy of the Belfast Agreement, in both the leader's address and also a panel discussion involving victims campaigner Kenny Donaldson, former UKUP MLA Paddy Roche as well as commentator Alex Kane, during the conference at the Royal Hotel in Cookstown today.

"It will be a considerable antidote to those sycophantic utterances in respect of an agreement which has failed.

"The core element of the Belfast Agreement was the establishment of the Executive, and it is in tatters," Mr Allister said.

"The promises of the Agreement are in tatters, yet the focus of mainstream politics is how we can put back together again that which has failed, instead of how do we move on to something which has a possibility of working, and that if it is to be devolution, it cannot be mandatory coalition.

"It can only be voluntary coalition, very much like what exists anywhere else. If that is put together then you have a chance of devolution that works.

"Those who can't agree then form the opposition, which is something that has also been sadly lacking."

But Mr Allister emphasised that if it is not possible to agree voluntary coalition, then direct rule must be introduced.

"The Secretary of State needs to bring us government," he said.

"Direct rule is not the best answer but it is the only answer at this time because we have to fundamentally get governance."

He ruled out taking part in any talks if restarted if they focus on resurrecting a mandatory coalition system.

"I think I am unlikely to be invited because my message doesn't fit, and certainly any talks merely directed at how much sticking plaster it takes to put back together again what will never work, I have no interest in," he said.

"To simply go back and patch something together again which didn't work is folly.

"If they were genuine talks about moving on and getting a system that works, I would certainly have many ideas to put to the British Government.

"I would not be talking to the Irish Government about the internal affairs of Northern Ireland, and I think that line has been blurred far too much in the recent talks process."

Mr Allister also accused both the DUP and Sinn Fein of rewriting history when it comes to the Belfast Agreement.

"The DUP quite clearly were vehement opponents until they were strong enough to claim David Trimble's clothes, and then they became the practitioners of the Belfast Agreement.

"The fundamentals of the Belfast Agreement survive unscathed through St Andrews. It is still that fundamental approach to politics, and well the DUP know that.

"Likewise Sinn Fein didn't even formally endorse the Belfast Agreement, but to them it has become a means to an end."

The TUV has just one MLA in the Assembly and 13 councillors.

When asked why the party does not have more elected representatives, Mr Allister blamed the DUP for using "scare tactics".

"Under the Belfast Agreement, as bad as it was, the First Minister was always guaranteed to be a unionist as long as there was a unionist majority because the First Minister came from the largest tradition in the Assembly.

"The DUP conspired to have that changed to coming from the biggest party which created the duress they have since exercised over the unionist electorate, to say, 'you must vote for us to stop Sinn Fein'.

"That was a clever device which changed the dynamic of elections.

"I meet so many people who say 'I don't agree with the DUP but I have to vote for them' because they fear Sinn Fein becoming the largest party and getting the First Minister."

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