The SDLP has firmly backed Dublin’s call for joint authority over Northern Ireland if political talks at Stormont should fail.
Irish foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney said on Tuesday night that if the talks aimed at restoring power-sharing should fail, the Irish government must have input.
“There can be no British-only direct rule,” he said. “That is the Irish government’s position.”
However the UK government responded soon after with a statement, saying that “it is ultimately for the United Kingdom Government to provide the certainty over delivery of public services and good governance in Northern Ireland, as part of the United Kingdom”.
SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood has now stated Dublin’s claim.
“Minister Coveney’s position that there can be no return to ‘British only’ direct rule is a statement entirely consistent with the logic and the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement,” he said.
“The SDLP is deeply concerned that the [UK] Northern Ireland Office’s highly unusual statement in response to Minister Coveney was made in a week when the British Government faces into a number of tight Brexit votes at Westminster. Few will believe that this is a coincidence.
“The rapid and extreme response to Minister Coveney’s reasoned statement bears all the hallmarks of a British Government politically controlled by the DUP.”
He added: “In the absence of local institutions, the only way to achieve that balance means a structure in which both the Irish and British Governments hold joint authority over major political decisions in Northern Ireland.”
“The British Government and the DUP would do well to remember that this is not a new position. Joint stewardship was proposed by the two governments as far back as April 2006.
“It is nonsense to suggest that joint stewardship of the North somehow goes against the principle of consent. The alternative prospect of joint Tory/DUP direct rule from London would radically undermine the principles of the Good Friday Agreement.”
Meanwhile DUP Leader Arlene Foster said her party was continuing to work to restore devolution.
“At the end of the formal talks process at Stormont Castle I indicated that we would continue discussions with Sinn Fein as well as the other parties,” she said.
“We have stepped up that engagement with Sinn Fein over the last week during which time we spent a number of days involved in a detailed engagement with them to ascertain whether an agreement on the issues before us is possible.
“We intend to continue with a further series of bilaterals with all of the other parties to determine whether agreement can be reached in the short time available.”