The immediate introduction of direct rule would be preferable to “direct rule by stealth” in the absence of a Northern Ireland Executive, Jim Allister has said.
Responding to uncompromising comments from Michelle O’Neill reported on Tuesday, the TUV leader said Sinn Fein’s repeated demands made it unlikely that Stormont could be resurrected in the near future.
Mr Allister also said that any moves by the DUP towards agreeing to statutory protection for Irish would mean they had “totally sold out”.
Ms O’Neill said a deal was possible, but only if the DUP gave way on: the introduction of an Irish language act; same-sex marriage; and no first minister’s position for DUP leader Arlene Foster ahead of the public inquiry into Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) being completed.
But she went on to say she remained optimistic the Executive could be restored this side of Christmas.
Quoted in Tuesday’s Irish News, Ms O’Neill also said it would be unacceptable for a DUP/Conservative coalition to decide the spending priorities in Northern Ireland in the absence of an Executive.
The £1 billion was given to N Ireland whatever system of government existsTUV leader Jim Allister
Commenting on the DUP’s deal with the Tories to secure an additional £1 billion for public services, Ms O’Neill said the money was now the responsibility of the NI Executive.
“One thing I’m very clear on – it’ll be Executive ministers here who’ll be taking decisions where that money will be spent. The democratic accountability needs to happen here,” she said.
However, Mr Allister said he understood, from previous statements by the secretary of state James Brokenshire, that a ‘budget act’ would have to be introduced at Westminster if the NI Executive was not restored by September.
“We are heading for direct rule by stealth, and my own view is that he should just take bull by the horns and do it properly rather than creeping direct rule,” Mr Allister said.
“Obviously Sinn Fein is seeking to see what price they can extract from the DUP, and if the DUP pay the price of a free-standing Irish language act then they have totally sold out.
“An Irish language act of the nature demanded is going to totally revolutionise the public service and turn it into a cold house for anyone who doesn’t speak Irish.
“That is why it is part of the Sinn Fein long game – because they see it as another means of squeezing the unionist community out of the public service.”
Commenting on Ms O’Neill’s claim that the £1bn cannot be spent without Executive approval, Mr Allister added: “I don’t agree with that at all. It was given to Northern Ireland, for Northern Ireland whatever system of government exists, so if you’ve got direct rule then direct rule ministers distribute it, or if you’ve got devolved ministers then they distribute it.
“But it doesn’t seem to me to be contingent upon there being an Executive and I hope it isn’t because we know from past experience of Executives that they are the last people you want to give spending powers to.”
Last week, DUP MP Sammy Wilson said he believed Sinn Fein would continue to block the Executive being re-established if it thought that would prevent the £1bn being spent in Northern Ireland.
Meanwhile, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said Ms O’Neill needs to “take a reality check” if she thinks Sinn Fein can exert influence over public spending without taking their seats at Stormont.
“In the absence of a functioning Executive, someone is going to have to take decisions about public expenditure in Northern Ireland,” he said.
The DUP MP added: “We believe that those decisions will have to transfer to Westminster, and of course the DUP will seek to use its influence to ensure that the money is spent wisely, and for the purposes that have been prioritised within the previous Executive and agreed with the government at Westminster.
“Sinn Fein boycott Westminster, and are refusing to form an Executive at Stormont. If they are not prepared to take responsibility for these decisions then somebody else will.”