London’s direct rule over Northern Ireland fraught with significant risks

British Prime Minister Theresa May’s minority government, depends on Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to pass legislation in Parliament.

In a significant development, for the first time in a decade, the British government is set to impose a budget on Northern Ireland in what is a major step towards imposing direct rule after failing to form a coalition government in Belfast.

Once this happens, folks living in the province fear that, it could trigger a political imbalance between Irish nationalists and British unionists. Britain’s shock decision to break away from the European Union has only stoked this fear.

The move is likely to increase headaches for British Prime Minister Theresa May, whose minority government is dependent on Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to pass legislation.

“Sinn Fein is disappointed that the last few weeks of negotiations have ended in failure,” said Michelle O‘Neill, the party’s leader in Northern Ireland. “But as you all know endless talks without conclusion are not sustainable.”

Nevertheless, Gerry Adams, Sinn Fein’s leader said the party was open to further dialogue only if it was “meaningful”.

Gregory Campbell, a DUP member of parliament has accused Sinn Fein of holding back the government in Northern Ireland with “a narrow political agenda”, including a push for greater recognition for the Irish language.

According to James Brokenshire, Britain’s minister for Northern Ireland, the prospects of a new government coming up in Northern Ireland is less, thus he has no choice but to start the process of setting a budget from London to ensure funding for essential services.

“This can’t simply continue forever and a day … There are decisions that have been stored up that have to be taken,” said Brokenshire to journalists while adding that the budget process could be reversed once an agreement is reached between the two parties.

On Thursday, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar’s office said in a statement, the gap between the two sides have narrowed and that it was still possible to form an executive in Northern Ireland.

Varakdar also made it lucidly clear that there could be no return to direct rule “as it existed prior to the Good Friday Agreement” if power-sharing is not restored.

According to May, she does not want a direct rule.

On Wednesday, Sinn Fein had encouraged Dublin to play a role, saying the Irish and the British governments should “act [together] urgently to deliver equality” in Northern Ireland.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney has warned that the disagreement is likely to complicate relations with London, who is caught up in one of the most complicate negotations since WW2.

“Don’t underestimate the impact of the DUP-Tory pact in all of this,” said Sinn Fein’s Adams.

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