‘We are in for a prolonged period of direct rule’

Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson says Northern Ireland could be facing “a prolonged period of direct rule”, if the Secretary of State is forced to call an Assembly election.

With Sinn Fein unlikely to nominate anyone to replace Martin McGuinness as Deputy First Minister before today’s 5pm deadline, another Stormont election now looks inevitable.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson believes that’s the wrong course of action for Northern Ireland, claiming that it won’t help to resolve any of the “current difficulties”, including the RHI debacle, which he says should be the subject of an independent inquiry as soon as possible so that measures can be put in place to mitigate the cost to the public purse.

He also believes that any inquiry will clear his party leader, Arlene Foster, of any wrongdoing.

“If we have an Assembly election that in itself will not resolve anything, in fact it’s likely that it will further polarise the political parties and make it even more difficult to get agreement on the outstanding issues,” the DUP man said.

“After an election I think we are in for a prolonged period of direct rule from Westminster while negotiations take place between the political parties in Northern Ireland to try to get Stormont up and running again.”

Mr Donaldson believes any post-election negotiations could take “quite a lengthy time”, and has voiced concern that Northern Ireland won’t have a government in place at a key time when the rest of the UK regions are negotiating the country’s exit from the European Union.

“We have the government at Westminster about to trigger Article 50 and begin the negotiations to leave the European Union and Northern Ireland is not going to have a government to give it a voice in those negotiations. When you consider that Brexit is going to affect the lives of every single citizen in Northern Ireland it is highly regrettable that Sinn Fein have decided to pull out of the government and collapse the government because it means Northern Ireland won’t now have a voice at the table of government in the negotiations on our future,” Mr Donaldson added.