Belfast Telegraph

Murdered Tory MP Airey Neave had devolution 'alternative'

By John Mulgrew

An alternative version of devolution in Northern Ireland could be set up under decades-old proposals written by murdered Tory MP Airey Neave.

Mr Neave was killed in 1979 by the INLA when a booby-trap car bomb exploded under his vehicle as it left the House of Commons underground car park.

Now, a senior Conservative and former aide, Lord Lexden, says that Mr Neave - who was the party's Northern Ireland spokesman - had outlined plans in the party's 1979 manifesto for "regional councils" in the "absence of devolution", which would have a "wide range of powers over local services".

Northern Ireland has been without a devolved government for almost a year.

"It is a pity that the policy that Neave devised for Northern Ireland is not better known," Lord Lexden said in a letter to The Times.

"When I saw him for the last time the morning before his murder, he gave final approval to the words that were to appear in the 1979 Conservative election manifesto."

Lord Lexden, formerly Alistair Cooke, writes that the language states "in the absence of devolution, we will seek to establish one or more regional councils with a wide range of powers over local services".

"Devolution has been absent from Northern Ireland for almost a year. The suspended Assembly at Stormont could be reconstituted along the lines Neave proposed," Lord Lexden said.

Airey Neave was a confidant and right-wing mentor to Margaret Thatcher.

Speaking about Mr Neave in his letter, Lord Lexden said: "He never gave much thought to his own safety, a habit that remained unchanged during his involvement with Northern Ireland after 1975. He was murdered, not by the IRA, but by the so-called Irish National Liberation Army, a splinter group, whose bombers remained at large ..."

Pressure has been mounting on Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire to tackle the stalemate at Stormont, which followed the collapse of power-sharing on January 16.

A continued rift between the DUP and Sinn Fein began amid the botched 'cash-for-ash' renewable energy scheme, and subsequently widened in the following months as a range of other unresolved issues emerged.

A stand-off over proposed legislative protections for Irish language speakers is currently one of the main sticking points.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said this week that a short timeframe should be set for renewed negotiations between her party and Sinn Fein. Mrs Foster, speaking in a New Year message, also rejected suggestions that the talks venue should be shifted outside of Northern Ireland.

She also believes the UK government should move promptly to appoint direct rule ministers in Northern Ireland if a short final attempt at brokering a deal to restore devolution fails.

Belfast Telegraph

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