Nigel Dodds: Sinn Féin cannot be allowed to hold the people of Northern Ireland to ransom
The Ulster people are being pushed to the brink by those who think narrow political interests should trump matters of life and death. It’s time to reach a deal on the Executive – or direct rule will become inevitable, writes Nigel Dodds
The Democratic Unionist Party believes in devolution. Northern Ireland is best governed by locally elected politicians making decisions for the betterment of all our people.
For over eight months Northern Ireland has had no Executive in place. Sinn Féin has blocked a government being formed and has been holding the country to ransom over a series of demands. No country can drift along without decision makers in place. Without Ministerial cover, civil servants are not prepared to make key decisions. This has had devastating consequences.
Government departments are preparing for 12% cuts. Bowel cancer patients cannot access new tests that people in the rest of the United Kingdom can. Small businesses cannot get the rates support they are entitled to. Children are facing bigger class sizes and fewer resources. The Northern Ireland Executive is silent about managing the opportunities and challenges of Brexit.
People from every background and tradition in Northern Ireland are being adversely impacted by the current situation. Northern Ireland cannot continue on cruise-control with no hands on the steering wheel. The challenges our society face are too great, the impact on our people is too much.
That is why we have made every effort to have the Assembly and Executive restored immediately. We must grapple with the very real issues that impact upon everyone.
For the DUP, decisions on education, health, the economy or infrastructure are too important to play politics with. These are the real issues impacting Protestant, Roman Catholic and those of no faith every single day. We are not saying that issues of language and culture do not matter, but put simply, other issues matter more.
That is why we have proposed a solution which would see the establishment of an Executive and the creation of legislation to protect all the cultures and traditions Northern Ireland has to offer.
This common sense proposal was welcomed by Fianna Fáil, The Irish foreign minister and a cross section of stakeholders in Northern Ireland. Our proposal was seen as reasonable. Disappointingly though, Sinn Féin rejected the proposal less than ninety minutes after it had been articulated.
I call our proposal “common sense” because it was the way any other legislature would deal with a similar issue. Sinn Féin wants the Irish language protected in legislation. Therefore it makes sense for a draft bill to be tabled in the Assembly. Let MLAs debate it, scrutinise it, propose amendments to it and ultimately pass it. That's democracy. That's how sound legislation is made.
We should not permit one political demand to get in the way of much needed health and education reforms or decisions to grow our economy.
Surely the lesson of the last decade has been that Northern Ireland only moves forward when everyone works together. A winners and losers approach will only guarantee failure in both the short and long-term. Attempts by Sinn Féin to prioritise their narrow self-interests over the collective good helps no one.
The coming days and weeks will be a real test of Sinn Féin’s political maturity and commitment to the people of Northern Ireland. The DUP has support from across the political and community spectrum to end the deadlock and return government to Northern Ireland.
Whilst our commitment to devolution is clear and our support for the return of the institutions unwavering, we cannot and will not allow the current drift to continue indefinitely. We have a short window in which to find solutions and return local decision making.
Unless agreement can be found very quickly then London will be required to take decisions. Northern Ireland simply cannot continue without democratic oversight. If no agreement can be found then direct rule is inevitable.
I welcome Her Majesty’s Government’s clear statement that in the absence of a locally elected Assembly the responsibility for the internal affairs of Northern Ireland will fall to them and them alone.
Those currently holding Northern Ireland to ransom continue to peddle a myth that the Irish government will have some role in governing Northern Ireland. They will not.
Only last week the Prime Minister reiterated in the House of Commons in the clearest possible terms that the affairs of Northern Ireland are a matter solely for the United Kingdom government.
Whilst we would prefer a local Assembly, in the case of no agreement we will work with our friends and allies in the government to deliver the best outcomes for the people of Northern Ireland.
The patience of the Ulster people is world renowned, but they are being pushed to the brink by those who think narrow political interests should trump matters of life and death.
The Democratic Unionist party received its largest ever mandate only a few short months ago on the mantra of ‘Standing strong for Northern Ireland.’ That is what we intend to do.
Nigel Dodds is MP for North Belfast and the DUP’s Westminster leader