The introduction of any sort of British-Irish joint authority to take decisions in the absence of a Northern Ireland Assembly would be “totally unacceptable to unionists”.
That was the message from DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson after Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald used her speech at Sunday’s Easter Rising commemoration in Belfast’s Milltown Cemetery to call for “a new British-Irish partnership” in the absence of power-sharing institutions at Stormont.
In the wake of the New IRA murder of 29-year-old journalist Lyra McKee, whose funeral is due to take place at St Anne’s Cathedral on Wednesday, there have been calls for renewed efforts to restore the devolved institutions.
Indeed, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has written to Prime Minister Theresa May, Irish premier Leo Varadkar and Northern Ireland’s main political leaders calling for talks to begin immediately.
Ms McDonald has insisted the current political stalemate cannot continue and has called for “a joint authority” to “implement agreements and safeguard rights”.
But Mr Donaldson insisted that not only would such a move be unacceptable to unionists, but it would also be “a fundamental breach of the Good Friday Agreement”.
And he called on Sinn Fein to “end their boycott of Stormont and get back into government”.
Addressing the republican commemoration at Milltown, the Sinn Fein president stressed that a return to direct rule “cannot and must not happen”.
“There is an urgent need for the convening of the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference,” she said.
“In the absence of the power-sharing institutions the alternative is not direct rule but a new British Irish partnership – a joint authority – to implement the agreements and safeguard rights.”
Mr Donaldson, MP for Lagan Valley, responded: “If Sinn Fein think they can impose joint authority on Northern Ireland then that would represent a fundamental breach of the Good Friday Agreement and would be totally unacceptable to unionists.
“Our own government and the Irish government have firmly rejected this as a way forward and what we really need is for Sinn Fein to end their boycott of Stormont and get back into government so that we can deliver for all the people of Northern Ireland.
“The current impasse is unacceptable and one would have thought in the aftermath of the tragic murder of Lyra McKee that Sinn Fein would redouble their efforts to get a functioning government in Northern Ireland rather than persist with a vacuum that fails to give the leadership that is required at this time.”
A TUV spokesman described joint authority as a “fanciful notion”, saying “the constitutional position of Northern Ireland as part of the UK is clear”.