‘Irish government must not be involved in governance arrangements of Northern Ireland’

The Irish government must not be involved in matters pertaining to the internal affairs and governance of Northern Ireland, unionist politicians have said.

Karen Bradley MP. Pic: Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

They were responding to Secretary of State Karen Bradley’s suggestion that in the event of a no-deal Brexit and any move to impose direct rule, the Irish government would be consulted on the matter.

Appearing before the Commons’ Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on Wednesday, Mrs Bradley said that under a no-deal Brexit “we would consult the Irish government about what form of decision-making was needed”, but later added that she was “not saying categorically” that there would be direct rule in the event of a no-deal.

Pressed around the possible form of direct rule envisaged, she said that direct rule ministers could be appointed, but then said “it could be a different form” and added: “We would need to enter into discussions with the Irish government.”

Her comments have angered some unionist politicians, who have questioned why the Irish government would be consulted about a return to direct rule.

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said: “We are very clear that the matters relating to the internal affairs of Northern Ireland are solely for the UK Government to determine, and consultation with the Irish government is only required where decisions affect cross-border relationships. So we will be making it very clear to the Secretary of State that she must ensure that the integrity of the political process is maintained and the Irish government are only involved where it is necessary for them to be involved, and certainly not on matters pertaining to the internal affairs and governance arrangements for Northern Ireland.”

Agreeing that the governance of Northern Ireland is a matter for the UK, Ulster Unionist Party leader Robin Swann MLA said: “Under the three stranded approach adopted in the Belfast Agreement, it is perfectly clear that the governance arrangements of Northern Ireland are an internal matter for the United Kingdom, and the UK only.

“There should be no confusion on this, but given that on Monday the Alliance Party’s Stephen Farry said that any alternative governance to the NI Assembly must ‘have some form of Irish dimension’ it is clear that the Secretary of State is not alone.”

With Northern Ireland’s devolved institutions having been dormant since power-sharing collapsed in January 2017, and no return to Stormont likely in the near future, the TUV has said direct rule must be implemented.

“If there is no prospect of Stormont being radically reformed in order to bring us proper democratic government – and we see no evidence of that – then we need to move to rule from Westminster. Even if the Belfast Agreement system was back up and running in the morning we would merely be waiting for the next crisis to hit,” a party spokesperson said.

“As for consulting with the Irish government, why would the Secretary of State need to do that? Joint authority – a boogeyman which has been used by the NIO and self-serving unionist politicians to justify putting Sinn Fein in joint authority over Northern Ireland – is legally and constitutionally impossible.”