British MP says Catholics in the North 'urged direct rule' weeks ago

Catholics living in Northern Ireland have called for a return to direct rule to end the political chaos, a senior British Conservative MP has said.

Laurence Robertson, chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, said it was "really unfortunate" that returning decision-making powers to Westminster is viewed as the best way to resolve difficulties in the region.

Mr Robertson told the British House of Commons the suggestion was put to him during a recent visit to the North, noting most people do not want such action although they would prefer it if the choice is "between chaos and direct rule".

Democratic Unionist Ian Paisley (North Antrim) also warned the UK Government's proposed law to allow Westminster to set and collect rates to fund local council services has "tipped the scales in favour" of direct rule.

Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire earlier denied the Northern Ireland (Ministerial Appointments and Regional Rates) Bill represents a return to direct rule.

The proposal also extends the time Stormont's rowing parties have to form a powersharing agreement to June 29, three weeks after the UK general election.

A row over a botched green energy scheme caused devolution to crash in January.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Robertson said: "Just a couple of weeks ago I was in Northern Ireland on a social visit speaking to friends over there, actually Catholics if that's an important factor - it is an important factor because of what I'm about to say.

"And they said to me 'For goodness sake Laurence, get on with it, bring direct rule back because that's the only way we're going to get any decisions taken'.

"Now, they don't particularly want to see that, most people probably don't want to see that but if it's choice between chaos and direct rule, people will go for direct rule - they have to do, and it's really unfortunate that we've got to that position."

In a message aimed at Sinn Féin, Mr Robertson added: "Can I just say to those who are likely to bring about that situation - and it's not people who are present in this chamber here today, in my belief, it's people who refuse to take their seats in this chamber - it really would be rather paradoxical, rather strange that one party that says they don't want rule from this place are actually the party that brings it about.

"I mean, how odd would that be?"

Mr Robertson, a former shadow Northern Ireland minister, said direct rule does not mean the Commons as a whole decides everything but committees consisting of around 20 MPs - including very few from Northern Ireland.

He said: "That is the reality of direct rule and I'd say to those who are getting in the way of the institutions being set up again, is that how you want Northern Ireland to be governed?"

DUP MP Mr Paisley, intervening, said: "The Bill before the House has now tipped the scales in favour of direct rule.

"Tonight, people in Ulster will be watching their televisions and it is this House that is setting rates - for the last 10 years it has been the Northern Ireland assembly that has set the rates bill.

"With that balance being tipped, with each piece of legislation that comes forward, it's going to make it harder and harder and harder to get back to devolution."

Ulster Unionist Party MP Tom Elliott (Fermanagh and South Tyrone), intervening during a speech by Conservative former Northern Ireland secretary Owen Paterson, said: "Maybe there is a longer term strategy that is re-emerging from Sinn Féin.

"And that is to make Northern Ireland unstable so that the people of Northern Ireland start questioning Northern Ireland's ability to govern itself."

Mr Paterson said he did not want to comment on the motives of any political party.

He added: "As someone who has been involved in Northern Ireland... there is such goodwill there amongst the populace across all parts of the community... there is longing for this to work, and real goodwill and now there is utter exasperation."


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