Eastwood says address to British King ‘love letter to DUP’, points out ‘direct rule’ not in GFA

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Colum Eastwood has said a ‘humble address’ to Charles III of Great Britain and NI welcoming the restoration of devolution reads like ‘a love letter to the DUP’ and has pointed out there is no mention of direct rule in the Good Friday Agreement.

The address – moved by Northern Ireland Office (NIO) Minister Steve Baker – talks up the Acts of Union 1800 and specifically states that ‘joint authority is not provided for in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement 1998 in respect of the UK and Irish Governments’.

The SDLP leader likened the the humble address to the British Government’s staunchly unionist ‘Safeguarding the Union’ deal with the DUP.

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"This humble address reads like a love letter to the DUP—I just caution the DUP not to get too comfortable, because I am not sure that it will be a forever love,” he said.

Colum Eastwood speaking in the British House of Commons on Monday, February 26.Colum Eastwood speaking in the British House of Commons on Monday, February 26.
Colum Eastwood speaking in the British House of Commons on Monday, February 26.

Mr. Eastwood referred to British Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris’ incorrect assertion in the British House of Commons on January 31 that constitutional change in Ireland would depend on the consent of both communities in the North at the time of any prospective referendum on reunification.

"A couple of weeks ago, the Secretary of State said in this House that we needed the majority ‘consent of both’ the Unionist community and the nationalist community to achieve constitutional change in Ireland.

"I wrote to him after that asking him to correct the record, because, of course, we only need a simple majority to see constitutional change in Ireland.

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"He wrote back to me correcting what he had said, but he has not corrected the record in this House. Will the Minister take this opportunity to do so, please?” he asked Mr. Baker.

The NIO Minister said: “I will correct the record: all that is required is a simple majority, just as the hon. Gentleman says. I am sure that we all regret the confusion that has arisen.”

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The SDLP leader went on to state that ‘the Government seem to be going out of their way both in the Command Paper and the humble address to make the point—that, in the GFA and the Northern Ireland Act 1998, there is no provision for joint authority’.

He pointed out that there is no provision for direct rule in the GFA either.

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"Of course, we all know—those of us who have been around long enough—that many things have changed since then, not least at St. Andrews [the 2006 agreement that ensured the restoration of power-sharing in 2007].

"But, that aside, would the Minister confirm to this House that there is also no provision in the Good Friday agreement or the 1998 Act for direct rule from London?” he asked.

Mr. Baker replied: “Strand 1 is of course a matter for the UK, and while NI is within the UK, everyone would expect us to make Northern Ireland work within the UK. Although there is no provision for direct rule, I gently point out to the hon. Gentleman that we went to some lengths, and at some cost, not to return to direct rule at this time.”