Sinn Fein claims Irish-UK pact could provide alternative to Northern Ireland power-sharing

DUP is resisting pressure to restore power-sharing assembly as it continues to examine the Windsor Framework

The DUP has in the past objected to suggestions of Irish involvement in the governing of Northern Ireland in the absence of devolution. Getty
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An agreement between the governments of Britain and the Republic of Ireland could provide an alternative for governance in Northern Ireland if power-sharing is not restored, Sinn Fein has said.

The Irish nationalist party floated the idea of a London-Dublin pact after the signing of the Windsor Framework, which Rishi Sunak hopes will bring an end to the political stalemate in Northern Ireland.

Unionists have in the past objected to any suggestion of Irish involvement in the governing of Northern Ireland in the absence of devolution.

Michelle O’Neill, Sinn Fein’s vice president, on Sunday repeated her call on the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to end its blockade on devolution in Belfast.

While she expressed a “cautious welcome” for the Windsor Framework overall, she said her party had some concerns about its “Stormont brake”. The mechanism has also been criticised by the DUP, the main pro-union party in the region. The Stormont brake allows politicians in Northern Ireland to prevent significant new EU goods rules from being introduced in the province.

The post-Brexit deal was unveiled last week by Rishi Sunak and European Commission Presdient Ursula von der Leyen in the royal town of Windsor.

Ms O’Neill, Sinn Fein’s leader in Stormont, said the result of last May’s Assembly election must be honoured and power-sharing restored.

Since the vote, the DUP has refused to enter into sharing power with Sinn Fein in protest over what is sees as continued EU influence in the region after Brexit.

“We obviously had a very historic election last May, for the very first time a nationalist was returned as first minister, and I am in the position of first minister-designate,” Ms O’Neill told Sky News.

Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O'Neill said London and Dublin could strike an agreement on government in Northern Ireland in the absence of power-sharing. PA

“The DUP have failed to honour that election to this point, but I still hope that they will get to that point, because power-sharing is how politics works in the north.

“We have a special and unique circumstance because of the Good Friday Agreement and there isn’t any other alternative.

“In fact, probably the alternative to power-sharing would be some arrangement between the British and Irish government.”

The Stormont parties are due to receive briefings from officials in Mr Sunak’s administration this week on how the brake will operate.

London and Brussels are holding out hope that the changes to their proposed framework will be enough to convince the unionist party to return to devolved government.

The DUP has yet to decide whether or not to back the Windsor Framework, which has been criticised by some party members.

Sammy Wilson, a DUP MP, said the treaty would establish Northern Ireland as “a colony of the EU”.

Ms O’Neill said it was time for the DUP to show leadership and agree to restoring power-sharing while still continuing its process of examining the deal.

“They deliberately took a tactic, they decided to walk away from the executive in order to influence the negotiation [between the UK and EU], but the negotiation is now complete, so there’s no reason for them to stay outside of the executive,” she said.

Boris Johnson, who was prime minister when the UK left the EU in January 2020, said he "finds it difficult" to back Mr Sunak's deal.

Updated: March 05, 2023, 3:03 PM