The comment from Simon Coveney on Tuesday night was contemptible.
“There can be no British-only direct rule,” the Irish foreign minister said. “That is the Irish government’s position.”
While it is of course welcome that the prime minister confirmed in the House of Commons yesterday that the government was not looking at “joint authority,” Theresa May’s response could have been stronger still.
It gave Mr Coveney wriggle room to say that he was not calling for joint authority.
So the focus should be on his words, to which the only appropriate response is: “There will be, if necessary, British-only direct rule and it will be rule that has no Dublin input.”
North-south bodies and co-operation where relevant would of course continue in the event of direct rule but nothing more should even be contemplated.
Think through the logic of Mr Coveney’s position.
This is the man who said, weeks ago among numerous other provocative and unhelpful statements, that there must be an Irish language act. He suggested that the border must move to the Irish Sea.
Now he is saying that if demands such as a standalone Irish act cause stalemate there cannot be direct rule. In other words, if Sinn Fein make demands that are impossible to meet (as it has done) it will be rewarded with a greater institutional role for Dublin – another small step towards a united Ireland and a position with which SF would be delighted.
The Alliance Party is also talking about an Irish dimension to direct rule, while the party rejects joint authority.
The DUP and Sinn Fein are now talking in a way that makes a deal seem more likely. This is good news if (and only if) it means Sinn Fein is in the process of jettisoning its red lines.
Otherwise, direct rule with no role whatsoever for Dublin is the only way forward.