The government has moved to stamp out any prospect of joint authority over Northern Ireland, shared between London and Dublin.
The SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has called for such rule over the Province if it becomes impossible to maintain power sharing at Stormont.
In the House of Lords today, the government was asked about such a prospect by Lord Lexden, the Conservative peer, who noted that it was a “grave moment in a part of our country”.
He asked: “Will the government confirm that it is within the framework of the Union and that alone that the rebuilding of political stability will take place?
“And will this Conservative and Unionist government now give a clear commitment that the Irish Republic, a close and respected neighbour, will not be given an enhanced role in Ulster’s affairs and there will be no moves whatsoever towards joint authority over Northern Ireland?”
Lord Dunlop, a parliamentary under secretary in the Northern Ireland Office, began his answer by taking the opportunity “to wish John Hume a happy 80th birthday today”.
He continued: “My lords, my noble friend Lord Lexden raises an important point and I can confirm that the government remains fully committed to the Belfast Agreement, including the principle of consent governing Northern Ireland’s constitutional position.
“It is on that basis Northern Ireland is and remains a full part of the United Kingdom and clearly any form of joint authority would be incompatible with the consent principle.”
He added: “The government’s priority remains to work intensively to ensure that after the Assembly election strong and stable devolved government is re-established in Northern Ireland.”