One of the pillars of the British establishment in Ireland, former Alliance Party leader John Alderdice, has joined growing criticism of British Direct Ruler Karen Bradley.
Speaking on the 21st anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, Alderdice, who now goes by the title ‘Baron Alderdice of Knock’, said Bradley did not have the “capacity” for the job.
He said she should not be in the post as she did not have a “real understanding of the problems Northern Ireland has” and “does not understand” her job.
Speaking in Westminster, Alderdice admitted the minister had “said some things that are completely extraordinary”.
Last week, Bradley told Irish citizens in the north of Ireland that they did not have a right to vote in referendums, and would not have the same rights as other EU citizens after Brexit.
Sinn Féin described the comments as “erroneous and dangerous”.
This week the British government sought to provide reassurance, but still fell short of providing clarity that Irish citizens will be allowed to participate in any future border poll on reunification.
A spokesperson said that voter eligibility rules for future referendums would be determined “on a poll-by-poll basis”. He said: “The rules surrounding any referendum are set in legislation specific to that poll, as happened in 2016 (for the Brexit referendum). Any decisions on a border poll would be made in line with the Belfast Agreement.”
The controversy comes after other highly inflammatory remarks by Bradley, including a shocking statement that all the killings carried out by British soldiers in the north of Ireland are “not crimes”.
Alderdice works closely with the British government’s political apparatus in Ireland and has previously been taken part in MI5-operated commissions to “monitor” the status of the Provisional IRA’s ceasefire. But he said Bradley was out of her depth.
“She is not a bad person but she should just not be in the job, because she does not understand it and she does not have the capacity to deal with it and it is allowing things to drift in a totally unsatisfactory way.”
Another statement by Bradley this week claimed that she is willing to hold a “short, focused set of five-party talks” in order to restore the Stormont Assembly in Belfast.
Sinn Féin Vice-President Michelle O’Neill said neither the British government nor the DUP had any genuine interest in restoring power-sharing.
“I am fully committed to Sinn Féin playing our full part in any serious and meaningful talks process which remove obstacles to proper power-sharing and which deliver a successful outcome and restore the Assembly,” she said. “We have yet to see Karen Bradley prioritise any such process, and I have told her it is time she did.”
She said the present reality is that Karen Bradley’s government is wholly reliant on the DUP at Westminster to stay in power.
“It therefore appears to us that neither the British government nor the DUP want an Assembly and Executive at this time which would impede their catastrophic Brexit.”
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said she was alarmed that “more than 20 years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, that the British government and state insists that Irish people living in the north of Ireland are British.
“And I am concerned that [Bradley] would make such ill-judged and inaccurate comments around people’s right to vote in any potential unity referendum. That worries me and that does undermine public confidence in her.”
Asked if Ms Bradley should resign, Mrs McDonald said it “wouldn’t solve the problem”.
“The issue that we have here regards this government’s stewardship of the peace process is far deeper and goes much wider than Karen Bradley.”