Varadkar to tell May Dublin will not support direct rule
Ireland will not accept a return to direct rule in Northern Ireland, the Irish government has insisted ahead of talks this week between Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Prime Minister Theresa May.
The crisis talks come just a week after London and Dublin were shocked by the sudden collapse of a deal on the Irish language and marriage equality brokered between Sinn Fein and the DUP. Both heads of government are expected to be in contact by phone and will both be in Brussels for EU business later this week. The Prime Minister’s official spokesman insisted there was no question of London reneging on the Good Friday Agreement.
“The government remains fully committed to the Good Friday Agreement and we continue to work towards getting the devolved administration up and running again.
“It is disappointing that agreement has not yet been reached between the parties, but we do still believe that the basis for an accommodation exists,” said the spokesman.
Mr Varadkar met Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill earlier this week and they are expected in Downing Street on Wednesday.
Mrs May depends on Arlene Foster’s pro-Brexit DUP’s ten MPs for a government majority in the Commons. Relations between the Irish and British governments have been also been tested by the rapid collapse of a pre- Christmas understanding or agreement from Downing Street that there will be no return to a Northern Ireland Border, or customs controls, after Brexit. Both sides, working with Brussels, had worked out a compromise in which Northern Ireland would match the EU’s own regulations but that accord was torpedoed by the DUP to the voluble delight of Mrs May”s hard-line Brexiteers and Eurosceptics.
European Commission officials pointed out the inherent contradictions in Britain’s insistence that Northern Ireland could be outside the EU and its single market and customs union and expect to have no Border. Since then right-wing, Eurosceptic Tories – including former Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson and the pro-Brexit Tory MEP Daniel Hannan – have started to lobby for the 1998 Good Friday Agreement should now be rescinded or renegotiated.
Despite the evident strains and difficulties the Irish government and its officials and diplomats are insisting that a deal can yet be done to restore a power-sharing in Stormont. But, if it can’t, it does not want a return to direct from London and will insist on the Good Friday Agreement’s British Irish Inter-Governmental Conference to be convened – something which will be vehemently opposed by the DUP. The last time this conference was convened was in 2007.
The Irish government’s position is: “We will not support a return to direct rule. We want the Good Friday Agreement honoured in the absence of an executive and assembly.”
Northern Irish secretary Karen Bradely, who was die to make a statement to MPs returning to the Commons on Tuesday, insisted she would consider “all options” and “do all I can to try and get devolved government back into Stormont because I believe that is the best thing for the people of Northern Ireland.”
Former Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson, he held the brief for more than two years from 2010, was roundly criticized for appearing to endorse a Daily Telegraph article by Ruth Dudley Edwards which said the Agreement had “run its course”.
Almost immediately his retweeting of the article was branded “beyond irresponsible” by shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer.
Party colleague and Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Smith said: “What an extraordinarily reckless and irresponsible thing to repeat, Owen. Having been NI Secretary, you can’t really mean it, can you?”
Meanwhile, Labour’s apparent absence of a coherent position of Northern Ireland after Brexit drew criticism from the SDLP. The party’s leader Colum Eastwood wrote to Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn asking him to back full access and full alignment with the single market and customs union.
In his letter Mr Eastwood pleaded with Mr Corbyn to protect the party’s legacy on Northern Ireland: “As you know, your party invested huge amounts of effort and time in helping to secure the peace process through the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement.
“Brexit threatens all that was achieved in that historic accommodation; it threatens the great positivity of that Labour legacy.
“Those institutions are currently experiencing severe strain; the imposition of a hard Brexit carries with it the potential to dismantle the architecture of our peace process.”
“Many of us in Ireland have been greatly encouraged by the evolving position your party has adopted since the Brexit referendum result. Having come this far, I would urge you to take the next progressive step and advocate continued access to the European single market and customs union.
“In doing so, you will go a long way in protecting the historic progress that has been made over so many years in Northern Ireland. It would prove a decisive moment of leadership which holds the potential to finally turn the Brexit tide in all of our favours. It would be a moment of leadership which I firmly believe the peoples of Ireland and Britain will come to thank you for.”
Last month the party’s Brexit spokesman Sir Keir Starmer visited Derry and Donegal and said the British government must keep the “solemn commitments” it had made in the first phase of Brexit negotiations to avoid a hard border.