The Alliance deputy leader has said his party envisages a “consultative” role for the Republic of Ireland under direct rule, but not one which gives Dublin any sovereign power.
Dr Stephen Farry was elaborating on a statement this week in which he said direct rule – should it arise from the ongoing impasse at Stormont – will require some sort of “Irish dimension”.
Meanwhile TUV leader Jim Allister said Alliance has never been opposed to Dublin “meddling” in Northern Irish affairs – and this remains the case.
The whole controversy was sparked by Simon Coveney on Tuesday, when he told reporters: “There can be no British-only direct rule. That is the Irish government’s position.”
This prompted a ferocious reaction from across the unionist spectrum.
UUP peer Lord Empey – one of the key figures behind drawing up the Good Friday Agreement – said Mr Coveney’s suggestion would mean a re-writing of the Irish constitution, dubbing his idea “constitutionally illiterate”.
The pro-united Ireland parties meanwhile indicated they were sympathetic to Mr Coveney’s statement.
Asked for Alliance’s position on Wednesday, a statement from Mr Farry said: “Joint authority would be a breach of the Good Friday Agreement. But any direct rule would realistically and inevitably need some form of Irish dimension, short of that.”
Asked on Thursday to elaborate, Mr Farry indicated that involving Dublin in “core administration” would be contrary to the Good Friday Agreement, but “precedent has been set however for a consultative role for the Irish government in terms of aspects of governance in Northern Ireland”.
He said direct rule would be a “proxy” for the Assembly, which operated according to the 1998 agreement.
And whilst that agreement provides Dublin no role in the government of the Province, it does include the setting up of forums for British and Northern Irish leaders to discuss issues of mutual interest including tourism, agriculture, fisheries and more.
Those existing arrangements do not amount to a “north-south shadow government,” said Mr Farry.
In the event of direct rule, he said: “The UK government would remain the sovereign government. We’re not talking here about changing the sovereignty situation.
“The UK government would be the decision-maker. But there could be some degree of a consultative role for the Irish.”
Asked what, in practical terms, a consultative role for Dublin would involve under direct rule, he said: “We have not got a particular view on that at this stage.”
He also said he did not feel Mr Coveney had truly been advocating joint authority over Northern Ireland, and that his words had been “spun”.
Jim Allister said Alliance was abetting “Dublin meddling in the internal affairs of Northern Ireland”.
He said Alliance had a history of not opposing such interference, adding: “Going back to 1985 and the Anglo-Irish Agreement, they were enthusiasts for that meddling.”