It is past time that a UK minister directly contradicts Coveney

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

When is British government minister going to slap down Simon Coveney verbally?

The Irish deputy prime minister this year told Northern Ireland that it had to have a standalone Irish language act.

He told a meeting in Belfast weeks ago that no checks at all, even away from the border, and no regulatory divergence between Northern Ireland and the Republic was acceptable.

He has, in various ways at various times, said or implied that direct rule will not be acceptable to Dublin.

Now, after saying he wants to repair relations with the DUP (when he is to blame for difficulties in his relations with unionists), he has made reference to “triggering of Intergovernmental Conferences to make decisions on Northern Ireland”.

In other words, he is again saying he won’t accept what he has previously described as “British-only direct rule”.

The Coveney approach necessarily would mean reward for Sinn Fein blackmail: either a DUP climbdown, in the face of republican red lines, or a move towards joint authority.

It was welcome in September when Theresa May made clear that there would not be direct rule. The prime minister was reiterating what junior ministers had already said.

But this is no longer enough. It is not acceptable for London to stay quiet and polite when Mr Coveney talks in such an unhelpful manner. It must be made clear, and by a senior British minister, that the government is fully aware of this repeated line coming out of Dublin and that it rejects it entirely.

The minister must state that if the resumption of Stormont is not possible, due to Sinn Fein’s destabilising tactics, there will be a period of direct rule and that it will include no increased say whatsoever for the Republic’s government.

Even Tony Blair, who did so much to appease the IRA including the On The Runs scandal, oversaw direct rule entirely from London after IRA scandals brought down Stormont in 2002. A Tory government, propped up by the DUP, must not countenance any other arrangement if republicans again make devolution impossible.