Demands are growing in the North for joint rule from Dublin and London as unionist politicians continue to refuse to operate the power-sharing institutions in Belfast.
Ireland’s Taoiseach Micheál Martin said if the institutions are not restored soon, the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference (BIIGC) “kicks in” and the Dublin government would be involved in “close consultation” in the running of the North.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald welcomed the Fianna Fáil leader’s remarks as she urged the two governments to “prepare for an arrangement of joint authority”. Aontú Representative for West Belfast Gerard Herdman said there was a moral responsibility on the Dublin government to intervene and that Britain “has consistently failed as a capable guarantor of the principles” of the Good Friday Agreement.
Pressure has been growing for a solution to unionist entrenchment in the face of increasing support for Irish unity. The leader of the cross-community Alliance Party, Naomi Long, said earlier this week she does not believe a majority of people in the north would accept full Direct Rule from London as an alternative to the Stormont Assembly.
“I’m not sure it fits in with the Anglo Irish Agreement, with the Good Friday Agreement and everything that has happened subsequently,” she said.
“So, I think we will be talking about a form of direct rule that would involve Irish participation and not just directly from Westminster.”
She pointed to the ongoing power struggle at the top of the British Conservative Party also meant full direct rule from London is not an option.
On Monday, Rishi Sunak became Britain’s third Prime Minister within the past seven weeks, and there are already rumours of a possible heave against him following a disastrous attempt to buy the support of the far-right of his party with hugely unpopular cabinet appointments.
However, Sunak has made no change to the Ministerial line-up in Belfast and has shown little interest in the north of Ireland other than a phone call to Dublin on Wednesday, in which he reiterated Tory calls for a negotiated outcome to unionist objections to the Brexit Protocol. He also said there is an ‘urgent need’ for a functioning Executive in Belfast, but suggested no change in approach.
“Given the chaos in Westminster we would be going from the frying pan into the fire (with full Direct Rule),” Ms Long said. “It’s not as though we suddenly have this stable government (in London).
“We’ve often been allowed to behave like naughty children here, squabbling and fighting amongst ourselves because we’ve had the parents in Westminster and in Dublin able to kind of guide things through.
“But it’s actually Westminster that’s now losing its mind. So, we haven’t got the luxury of being able to look to across the water for help on stability and support – they are in chaos.”
Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie also predicted joint authority if powersharing in the Six Counties was to be suspended on a long term basis.
Asked about the potential for a joint authority arrangement in the future, Mr Beattie said: “I’m really concerned.
“If we look at the New Decade, New Approach (2020) document that got this government, the executive up and running again, that was a document which was penned by London and Dublin. So, they had equal say in getting this government up again.
“If we’re going to do this again, if people think there’s a utopia out there, that it’s just going to be a direct route from London, then they’re mistaken, they’re politically illiterate.
“The reality is that if we do not get a government here, if we don’t get up and running here, we are going to have influence coming from all different directions and that’s not going to be good for unionism.
“And the one thing that you find with people is this – if they look for government and there isn’t one there, they will look to the nearest government to give them support, and that might well be looking towards Dublin.”