Direct rule might be the only way out of Stormont impasse

Morning View
Morning View

It is unclear whether there has been any agreement between Theresa May and Enda Kenny that there will be no return to direct rule.

A UK government spokesman has moved to imply that there was not such an agreement, by saying that responsibility in Northern Ireland is a matter for the UK.

Jim Allister is entirely right to tell Dublin not to try to interfere in this way. We need to hear this said from London itself, given that Irish ministers are not afraid to weigh in on behalf of nationalist concerns.

The position has been made difficult for British ministers since the 1985 Anglo Irish Agreement emboldened their Republic of Ireland counterparts but even so they must speak bluntly every time there is any hint or suggestion that London and Dublin have equal authority over key decisions in Northern Ireland.

In this specific case, the option of direct rule must remain clearly on the table. Sinn Fein has behaved in recent months in a fashion that raises question marks about the very viability of the Stormont structures.

First, it forced an unnecessary election. Now it feels supremely confident in the aftermath of such a close outcome and able to dictate the way forward.

But the republican party is losing sight of a few fundamental facts. It is not the largest party. Some 72% of the electorate did not vote for it, so there is no question of it getting its way in a long list of demands.

It has shown arrogance in insisting that Arlene Foster step aside. Imagine the allegations of discrimination and disrespect that would follow if the DUP tried to dictate who should lead Sinn Fein (and think of how Dublin leaders would, perhaps politely, contradict the DUP if it tried to do so).

Direct rule might be the only way out of this impasse. No doubt all the key people in the British government understand this clearly.