Direct rule could put GFA at risk, says Empey

Posted By: February 21, 2018

Stephen Gamble. News Letter. Belfast. Tuesday,  February 20,  2018

The implementation of direct rule in Northern Ireland could jeopardize the Belfast Agreement and undermine the principle of consent, the chairman of the UUP has warned.

 Former Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey has urged the secretary of state to explore other options for governing the Province, following the collapse of talks aimed at restoring devolution last week.

Sinn Fein has said direct rule “is not on the table” and has called for the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference to be convened in the absence of power-sharing at Stormont.

 But the DUP has urged Secretary of State Karen Bradley to urgently set a budget and take key decisions on schools, infrastructure, and hospitals.

Lord Empey cautioned Unionists against “jumping into” direct rule and said a “whole suite of alternatives” should be first examined. “Direct rule is easy to get into, but not so easy to get out of,” he told the News Letter.

Warning direct rule advocates to “be careful what they wish for,” Lord Empey added: “If we tear up Stormont now it could begin the process of unwrapping the Good Friday Agreement and jeopardize the principle of consent.” The UUP peer also claimed the introduction of direct rule ministers could mean NI’s special dispensation for matters such as water rates, the bedroom tax, and welfare reform could come to an end.

But DUP MP Sammy Wilson accused Lord Empey of “over-egging the situation,” adding: “The UK Government has clearly indicated it has no appetite to implement legislation on issues which fall under devolved matters. It has too much on its hands with the Brexit negotiations. “While the direct rule does pose some risks, having no system of governance in place for NI holds even greater risks.”