Colum Eastwood has clashed with East Derry MP Gregory Campbell after calling for joint authority between Dublin and London as a means of resolving the Stormont crisis.
The SDLP leader said the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference (BIIGC) should be convened immediately in order to break the impasse, when he addressed the Westminster Northern Ireland Affairs Committee (NIAC) this week.
Declaring himself 100 per cent for both marriage equality and an Irish Language Act (ILA), which have been regarded as the principal road blocks to the DUP’s greenlighting Stormont’s return, Mr. Eastwood said Dublin and London needed to agree a deal if the two largest parties were incapable of doing so.
“We should invoke the BIIGC, which is in the Good Friday Agreement (GFA),” said Mr. Eastwood.
“I thought it should have been convened directly after Brexit anyway and the two governments should put their best guess of what a deal should be on the table, agree it between themselves, and legislate.
“That’s what needs to happen and it needs to happen urgently because, as we’ve found in the last 13 months, our institutions are very easy to pull down and not that easy to put back together again.”
Mr. Eastwood said he felt that if the two governments didn’t intervene now Stormont would lie dormant for longer than the five year hibernation provoked by the arrest of British agent and Sinn Féin member, the late Denis Donaldson, in 2002.
“I think we’ll be lucky if we keep doing what we’re doing to get them back up and runniing in five years,” he said.
“I think it is time for an intervention and the two governments have a responsbility to do that,” he said.
His demand that Dublin and London agree a way forward on an ILA and marriage equality and other outstanding items and legislate accordingly met with a frosty response from his former Derry City Council and Assembly sparring partner and current NIAC member, Mr. Campbell, however, who called the BIIGC “a nationalist talking shop”.
Mr. Campbell appeared astonished that, as he put it: “In this committee the leader of a constitutional political party has intimated that a process could be arrived at that a major element of Northern Ireland takes exception to and that leader has said it should be implemented anyway. That’s just not acceptable.”
But Mr. Eastwood retorted: “Tell me what’s going to happen then, Gregory. But seriously, what is the plan here?
“You are part of the failure here. Tell me what the plan is. The public out there are crying out for leadership.”
The East Derry MP persisted: “You have put forward a proposition, which, if it were taken to its logical conclusion could well lead to the entirety of unionism rejecting it and you have said it should be implemented anyway.”
Mr. Campbell asked Mr. Eastwood if it would be acceptable for Dublin and London to agree and implement legislation that was likely to be rejected by the “totality of nationalism”.
Mr. Eastwood was adamant and said that what the DUP was currently proposing was effectively unilateral unionist governance of the North from London by the Conservative Party and the DUP.
“I’m explaining to you that right now what we are faced with and what you have called for is for the British Government to take decisions in Northern Ireland. Right? What is the relationship between you and the British govenrment? You have a very comfortable relationship with the British Government and that is your right but the idea that everybody else has to just forget about it?”