Sinn Féin’s leader in Stormont Michelle O’Neill this week angrily rejected as a “Mickey Mouse affair” suggestions that a shadow Stormont Assembly be set up to scrutinise direct rule decisions taken in Westminster.
Ms O’Neill said the proposal being considered by Theresa May’s government would deliver nothing and would mean the abandonment of the Good Friday agreement.
The proposal is reported to be under consideration by Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley. It follows reports that London has repeatedly refused requests by Dublin for a meeting of the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference which is supposed to convene when devolved rule in Northern Ireland is stalled.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar last week expressed his disappointment in the British government over its failure to act on the request. It is widely believed in Dublin that the requests are being vetoed by the DUP, whose ten MPs give Prime Minister Theresa May her working majority in the Commons.
Mr Varadkar said he would “not give up” on the issue and Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Coveney has continued to press the case for convening the IGC. Mr Varadkar said Commons arithmetic had “changed the context” of the British-Irish intergovernmental conference (BIIGC).
“There is not a meeting of minds with the British government on this, both the Tánaiste, when speaking to the secretary of state for Northern Ireland, and I, in my last telephone conversation with Theresa May, suggested that the BIIGC be convened. “While there has been no formal refusal from the UK government, it certainly has not committed to doing that. That is a disappointment.
“The political context is different, it is not the same as it has been for the past 30 years
“It is different for two very big reasons, the first of which is Brexit which has changed the climate and changed the weather around all of this, and the second of which is because the UK government is in a confidence and supply agreement with the DUP in Westminster.
“That is the reality of what we face, but by no means are we going to give up. We are going to keep pressing these issues. That is our solemn role as co-guarantors of the Good Friday agreement.”
Fianna Fail leader Micheál Martin, whose party keeps Mr Varadkar’s government in power, said that the British refusal to convene the intergovernmental conference was “unacceptable” and “something that has not happened for more than 30 years”.
In Belfast this week Michelle O’Neill dismissed the DUP Shadow Assembly proposal: “I think we would be better focusing our efforts on where they should be, which is actually getting the institutions up and running again.
“Any attempt to scramble together some sort of ‘Assembly light’, a scrutiny role is not the direction. “It’s clearly an abandonment of the Good Friday Agreement – it is not going to deliver what we need to deliver for citizens, which is legislation and rights.
“We have no interest in scrutinising direct rule ministers – what we want is the institutions up and running again, what we want is the executive up and running again and what we want is to be setting a programme for government and setting a budget, not focusing our efforts on some Mickey Mouse affair.”
Sinn Féin has maintained that DUP leader Arlene Foster actually agreed a draft deal to resurrect power-sharing last month before pulling the plug in the face of an internal revolt among party members angry at the prospect of concessions on the thorny issue of the Irish language. Mrs Foster denies this. Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald criticised what she called unacceptable “delaying tactics”.
“We are not going to ask citizens to endlessly wait for the delivery of basic rights.The truth is if the DUP or anyone else is playing a delaying game, well then I think they ought to be roundly criticised for that, said the SF President.