Ex-Stormont referee Willie Hay says politicians would fight over independent talks chair

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DUP veteran William Hay has ruled out the appointment of an independent mediator to sort out the ongoing crisis at Stormont, suggesting politicians would end up rowing over the go-between’s identity.

The man who refereed the Stormont bear-pit for seven years before his elevation to the House of Lords in 2014 made the comments after Secretary of State for the North, Karen Bradley, said an independent talks chair was one of the options on the table.

The former Derry City councillor who now takes the title Lord Hay of Ballyore as a cross-bench peer at Westminster, said: “I heard the comment about an independent chair. However, knowing the politics of Northern Ireland and having been Speaker of an Assembly that lasted almost 10 years, I think that they would probably spend some time arguing over who that person might be - so I do not think we should add fuel to a very difficult situation.”

The senior DUP figure warned colleagues at Westminster that the situation in the North was precarious.

“At this moment in time, Northern Ireland is not in a good place.

“It gives me no pleasure to say that, so we all have to be careful with our words and actions while we see whether we can resolve the last remaining issue of the project.”

In a signal to critics of the DUP he suggested political progress coudl only be built on “an accommodation that can be supported by the whole community, and which is shared, fair and balanced”.

He said the DUP was determined to secure devolution but said the London government needed to “settle unionist nerves” by declaring clearly that “Dublin will not be involved in the internal affairs of Northern Ireland”.

He asked Ian Duncan, Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Northern Ireland Office (NIO), to rule Dublin rule out.

He said: “The Minister needs to clarify that important point if we are to settle everybody down and get back to trying to resolve what I believe is the last remaining issue.”

The Minister replied: “The three-stranded approach will be at the heart of our ongoing discussions with all parties, but I am happy to confirm to the noble Lord that no joint approach to the administration of government between the United Kingdom and Ireland is on the cards.”

Separately, the DUP peer’s party colleague, East Derry MP Gregory Campbell, suggested the issues dividing his party and Sinn Féin were not matters of life and death.

Mr. Campbell, who was also responding to Mrs. Bradley’s statement at Westminster, declared “the important matters that divide us are not life and death matters that require a budget to resolve them”.

Like Mr. Hay, he indicated that the DUP were committed to the “total restoration of an Executive on a fair and equitable basis” but added, “the head of the civil service said that it would be incredibly difficult for us if we did not have budget certainty by February 8 [and] we are now two weeks beyond that.”