Belfast Telegraph

Government must be more hands-on in Northern Ireland crisis, Lord Hain says

The Government has been accused of being "hands off rather than hands on" during the current crisis in Northern Ireland by a Labour former cabinet minister.

Lord Hain, who served as secretary of state for Northern Ireland under Tony Blair, stressed the need for top-level ministerial involvement, given that the parties at Stormont "are not going to sort this out on their own".

His criticism was rejected by Northern Ireland minister Lord Dunlop, who insisted the UK Government had been "actively engaged".

He also pledged to "leave no stone unturned" to ensure the resumption of powersharing following the upcoming elections.

There are fears a divisive campaign will make reaching agreement even less likely and raises the spectre of a return to direct rule if a new administration cannot be formed within the required three weeks on the other side of the March 2 poll.

The current crisis was triggered by Northern Ireland's botched eco-energy scheme.

The Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) threatens to cost the taxpayer up to £490 million over the next 20 years.

Sinn Fein deputy first minister Martin 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.

Northern Ireland will now go to the polls just ten months after the last assembly vote.

Speaking in the House of Lords, Lord Hain said: "Why is it that the Government gives the distinct impression of being hands off rather than hands on during this escalating crisis?

"Clearly, the parties, since their relations have deteriorated so terribly, are not going to sort this out on their own, even after an election.

"It's vital that the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister convenes meetings, whether summits or other gatherings, to bring the parties together and that they do so with the Taoiseach as well.

"The Irish Government, regardless of joint sovereignty arguments which are irrelevant in this, the Irish Government is very influential and must be brought in."

Lord Dunlop said: "Both the Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland have been very actively engaged in talking to the Taoiseach and talking to the parties in Northern Ireland.

"We will continue to leave no stone unturned to ensure that we are in the best possible position after the election to re-establish a fully functioning executive."

Tory former defence minister Lord Robathan questioned what "the hiatus" would mean for former police officers and soldiers facing legal action over historical killings during the Troubles.

He said: "They went out and served in Northern Ireland to serve both sides of the community.

"They are being prosecuted disproportionately compared to the terrorists they were protecting the community from."

Lord Dunlop agreed the current situation was "unsatisfactory".

He added: "It absolutely remains a priority for the Government to build a consensus on this issue and find a way forward."


From Belfast Telegraph