Donaldson warns of prolonged period of direct rule for north

Posted By: January 11, 2017

David Young. Irish News. Belfast. Wednesday, January 11, 2017

POWERSHARING could be over amid a bitter political row about the disastrous cash-for-ash scandal; DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson has said.

The senior DUP politician said the North is now facing a “prolonged” period of direct rule from Westminster and alleged Sinn Féin had dealt a “serious blow” to power sharing following Martin McGuinness’s

A mandatory sharing of power between Northern Ireland’s two main traditions was a central part of the Good Friday Agreement which brought to an end 30 years of the Troubles.

Mr. Donaldson said the row over the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scandal is unlikely to be resolved without a lengthy talks process following a looming snap election.

“My own sense of where we are is that we are looking at a prolonged period of direct rule because I don’t see these issues being resolved in a talks process in a short space of time,” he said.

“I think that Sinn Féin have dealt a serious blow to powersharing and I think the prospect of a mandatory coalition being restored has been greatly diminished, so if we are going to have another talks process then I think Unionists will want to be looking at how Stormont operates and whether we should be moving towards our objective of a voluntary coalition form of government.”

If the DUP and Sinn Féin are returned as the two largest parties after an election but their row is still unresolved it is unlikely that a new ruling executive could be formed.

That raises the real prospect of the devolved power-sharing institutions being suspended and a return to direct rule from Westminster, possibly with an input from the Irish government.

Emergency legislation would be required in London to enable Secretary of State James Brokenshire to put Stormont into cold storage.

On Monday, Martin McGuinness resigned in protest at the DUP’s handling of the botched RHI scheme, triggering the most serious political crisis at Stormont in a decade.

Mr. McGuinness’s decision to walk away after ten years of sharing power with the DUP came as former first minister Arlene Foster refused to stand aside to facilitate a probe into the RHI scheme – which has left the north’s taxpayers facing a £490 million bill.

Mr. Donaldson claimed observers would be “bewildered” at Sinn Féin’s move and said the party had “abandoned” its Republican voters.

“At a time when we face enormous decisions about our future, with Brexit and the way this will shape the lives of every single citizen in Northern Ireland for years to come, it is surprising that Sinn Féin have decided to abandon powersharing and therefore to greatly diminish any influence that they might have over these decisions,” he said.