Sir Reg Empey: Direct rule may mean SF gets what it wants

Sir Reg Empey
Sir Reg Empey

One of the key figures behind the Good Friday Agreement negotiations fears that if the Province is take under direct rule, the Westminster government may simply end up fulfilling Sinn Fein’s demands on an Irish langauge act, and more.

Sir Reg Empey, former Ulster Unionist leader, hit out angrily yesterday after a DUP proposal to re-establish devolved government was rubbished by Sinn Fein, leaving the prospect of rule from Westminster looking ever more likely.

DUP members applaud a speech by leader Arlene Foster (in red) at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Belfast on Thursday

DUP members applaud a speech by leader Arlene Foster (in red) at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Belfast on Thursday

Sir Reg also said if Martin McGuinness was alive the political situation may have played out differently, because he could have acted as a counterweight to Gerry Adams.

Also yesterday, the DUP issued a furious denunciation of their former partners in power as “tyrants”.

The latest twist in the now almost eight-month long saga of trying to resurrect an Executive centres on a speech given on Thursday by Arlene Foster.

Although she had been resistant to Sinn Fein’s push for an Irish language act, she said that whilst she would not agree to “one-sided demands,” “a new cultural deal” is needed.

Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill speaks to the media in west Belfast yesterday

Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill speaks to the media in west Belfast yesterday

“I am proposing that we restore an Executive immediately,” she said.

“Put ministers back into posts so that decisions can be made and that Northern Ireland can have a government again ... we also agree to bring forward legislation to address culture and language issues in Northern Ireland within a time-limited period to be agreed.”

If this did not gain “cross-community support” then the Executive would fail again.

Sinn Fein rejected this idea straight away, saying: “Establishing an Executive that may collapse after a matter of months on the same issues will only fail all our people.”

There have been growing calls for some kind of democratic governance over the Province, which saw Sinn Fein walk out of government on January 9, then saw fresh Assembly elections on March 2, and since March 29 has seen departments run solely by civil servants, with no politicians to take decisions on what money should be spent where.

Lord Empey, a key part of David Trimble’s team at the time the devolved government was set up in 1998, said the situation at present is “absolutely monstrous” and a “scandal”.

He accused Gerry Adams of trying to “bully the people of Northern Ireland” in order to obtain the kind of Irish language act he wants, and asked if an act of that type was “such a big deal to Sinn Fein, why didn’t they put it on the table during the negotiations for the Belfast Agreement?”.

He noted that the 1998 Agreement established Foras na Gaeilge (a cross-border Irish language promotion body), and that there exist Irish medium schools, Irish broadcasting, and more – and that “people who wish to deal in the Irish language in Northern Ireland are not being deprived of anything”.

He made reference to Arlene Foster’s remarks in February about Sinn Fein’s push for an Irish language act – when she said “if you feed a crocodile it will keep coming back”.

He said: “I think Arlene needs to be extremely careful. She’s playing a very dangerous game. Once the principle is conceded then, first of all, she has somersaulted on where she was.

“The second thing is Gerry Adams will simply bank that and move on to other things.

“Because he is not satisfied simply with the Irish language act – he’s a whole series of issues. There’s what they term marriage equality, human rights, and of course the other big thing is legacy issues.”

As to what Sinn Fein would gain from direct rule, he said the British government may end up being left to do “the dirty work”, in that it “could introduce the measures that Arlene doesn’t want – they could introduce an Irish language act”.

He added: “Secondly, they could deal with the [gay] marriage issue. And then Arlene can shrug her shoulders and say: ‘It wasn’t me – I didn’t do it, but we have to accept the situation’.”

Asked if he felt the sitaution would be the same now if Martin McGuinness were still an active top Sinn Fein man, he said: “It would appear to me that Martin McGuinness had some degree of commitment to Stormont.

“I was there through the years on the Executive when he was on it and so on, and there’s no doubt he did seem committed to the institution.

“I never, ever got that impression from Mr Adams.

“So I certainly think Martin McGuinness’ absence is an issue – I don’t have any doubt about that.”

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