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Power-sharing must be restored for sake of all

Everyone should be concerned at the present impasse at Stormont, which has the potential to collapse the Belfast Agreement. That would destroy political stability, economic growth and peace. All - unionists and nationalists - would suffer, so we must all support the call for the different political parties to talk and strive to reach a settlement.

It is good that all parties agree that an independent inquiry is desirable, but a full judicial inquiry would be time-consuming and too expensive.

What are the alternatives to Stormont? A united Ireland? Joint rule of Northern Ireland by London and Dublin (as an inexperienced leadership of the SDLP has already demanded)? An independent Northern Ireland (a recipe for civil disorder)? Direct rule?

As a unionist who negotiated the Belfast Agreement I remain convinced that devolution is the best alternative.

Economically, the Republic is about to suffer more than any other EU country as a result of Brexit, so irrespective of politics, a united Ireland is the road to nowhere, and would force many nationalists and unionists to emigrate.

Likewise, emigration would be the result of an independent Northern Ireland, as it would bring an end to the block grant of £10bn from the Treasury.

The only alternative to an agreed Stormont is direct rule, but unionists should be aware that this is not any longer guaranteed.

Already, the PMs in London and Dublin are in discussion, albeit publicly stating they want to encourage the local parties to restore devolution.

However, it is noticeable that the Conservative Government has not stated that direct rule is the alternative to Stormont.

In 1985, unionists learnt the Conservatives could not be trusted. The Anglo-Irish Agreement led to instability and increased loyalist and republican terrorism. The late Lady Thatcher acknowledged later it was a mistake, but the damage had already been done.

We do not want the same error in political judgment to be repeated, but, from my 50 years in parliamentary politics, I warn that the Conservatives could make the same mistake again.

This would be horrendous for Northern Ireland and, indeed, the whole island of Ireland.

Our efforts should, therefore, be concentrated on restoring a power-sharing system of government at Stormont for the benefit of all - unionist and nationalist, Protestant, Roman Catholic and others.


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