No joint authority over Northern Ireland, says British government

The British Government has said there can be no joint authority over Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire has warned he may pass legislation at Westminster to fund public services if no political agreement can be found.

On Tuesday, Simon Coveney said direct rule from London could not be imposed without input from the Irish government.

Dublin has a legal obligation to be consulted on issues involving North/South co-operation under the 1998 Belfast Agreement between the British and Irish governments which largely ended decades of violence.

The UK Government statement said: "We will never countenance any arrangement, such as joint authority, inconsistent with the principle of consent in the agreement."

The agreement gives prominence to a "principle of consent", which affirms the legitimacy of the aspiration to a united Ireland while recognising the current wish of the majority in Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom.

Senior Sinn Féin representative Alex Maskey suggested the UK's intervention represented a "slapdown" for the Irish government's position.

The two administrations have been meeting Stormont parties as they consider whether to kick start fresh talks aimed at restoring powersharing.

Ministers have not sat at Stormont for seven months after the late Martin McGuinness resigned as deputy first minister in a row over the DUP's handling of a botched green energy scheme.

Since then a dispute over the status of the Irish language has been among the issues dividing the parties.

The British Government statement added: "The UK Government, along with the Irish government, is engaging intensively with the Northern Ireland parties to secure the re-establishment of inclusive, devolved government at Stormont, and the operation of all the institutions established under the Belfast Agreement.

"That is our clear objective and we are determined to succeed.

"Should this not prove possible, in the absence of devolved government, it is ultimately for the United Kingdom Government to provide the certainty over delivery of public services and good governance in Northern Ireland, as part of the United Kingdom. This is consistent with our obligations under the Belfast Agreement."

Mr Brokenshire has warned he may have to legislate for a Stormont budget to fund the under-pressure health service and other public responsibilities if the deadlock continues.

Mr Coveney said there were still grounds for optimism and direct rule should still be avoided.

"There can be no British-only direct rule. That is the Irish government's position.

"It would be very difficult to even contemplate how direct rule would function in that context.

"We don't want to go there, it is not good for Northern Ireland, it is not good from the point of view of the government that I am a part of, it is not good from the point of view of the Government in London, everybody loses in that scenario."

AP


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