The government has been urged to “repatriate” the running of Northern Ireland’s health service back to London due to a looming “humanitarian crisis”.
Former Ulster Unionist leader Lord Empey made the call at the House of Lords today, during a debate on the restoration of devolved government here.
Lord Empey highlighted recent waiting list figures from the Department of Health, that showed there were 280,000 people here waiting for a first consultant-led appointment, 88,000 of whom had been waiting for over a year.
“There’s a humanitarian crisis developing,” Lord Empey said.
He called on the Government to bring powers back temporarily to Westminster on “humanitarian grounds” to “offset what could be a potential humanitarian crisis in the winter as the health service is totally unable to cope”.
Decisions had to be taken, Lord Empey told peers at question time in the Lords.
The Government had an “over-arching responsibility” to the people of Northern Ireland and could not “keep hiding behind the fact that there is no movement between the parties”.
His question came after recent protest rallies in Northern Ireland over the failure of Assembly members at Stormont to patch up their differences and get back to work.
For the Government, Viscount Younger of Leckie said: “I am aware of the rallies and I recognise the strength of feeling and the frustration.
“And that is why the Secretary of State has committed to redoubling of efforts to restoring the Executive and getting devolution back up and running again.
“The return of the parties to Stormont remains a credible and achievable option. The parties have all publicly committed to devolution, and previous talks have made progress.”
He added that no option was “off the table” and the Government “is prepared to step in to protect the interests of Northern Ireland to ensure the country is stable economically”.
He said the Government’s single most important priority remained to restore an executive at Stormont.
“The people of Northern Ireland deserve this,” he added.
Lord Younger said the return of the parties to Stormont remained a “credible and achievable option” and the issues dividing them were not “insurmountable”.
For Labour, former Northern Ireland secretary Lord Murphy of Torfaen said the Province had been without a government longer than Belgium and it was time for fresh thinking.
He urged the Prime Minister to get involved and called for intensive all-party talks and the possible involvement of an independent chairman.
“If we don’t do any of these things inevitably we will drift to direct rule, which will be a total and utter disaster,” Lord Murphy warned.
Lord Younger said the Prime Minister remained fully committed to bringing about the restoration of the executive and kept in close touch with what was going on.
Speaking after the debate, Lord Empey added: “Further inaction by the UK Government is not an option. They must urgently take control.”