Northern Ireland news

Hoare: Growing appetite to change rules to prevent one party collapsing Stormont

Conservative MP Simon Hoare, who is chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee (Brian Lawless/PA)
Jonathan McCambridge, PA

There is a “growing appetite” for a change to Stormont rules to stop one party from bringing down the powersharing institutions, a Conservative MP has said.

Simon Hoare, chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, urged anyone who believes that rules around the formation of an executive are set in stone to “think again”.

The devolved institutions collapsed last year following a DUP boycott in protest against the post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol.

Several attempts to restore the Assembly have failed as the DUP, the largest unionist party, has refused to back the election of a Speaker.

Senior civil servants have been left running Stormont departments.

Despite the absence of a devolved government, Mr Hoare ruled out any prospect of a return to direct rule from London.

“Direct rule would be the most enormous failure of governance in Northern Ireland,” he told the BBC Good Morning Ulster programme.

“The Secretary of State (Chris Heaton-Harris) and the Government have made it absolutely clear that there is going to be no return to direct rule so anybody who harbours some perverse hope that if this continuation rolls on, by some back door the devolution route created by the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement suddenly gets stopped, and it is ministers in the NIO taking every single decision and Stormont gets brushed away, that is for the birds.

“That is not going to happen.”

He added: “What I think is far more likely to happen, and the Secretary of State has made this very clear, is that he wants to be listening to the grassroots in Northern Ireland, who may very well start to advocate in greater numbers and with a louder voice for a change in the rubric and the rules by which an executive is formed.

“Absolutely key is that both traditional communities would need to be represented within that executive, but with a growing other identification.

“I would say to anyone who thinks that the rules are so cast into tablets of stone that they cannot be changed, think again.

“There is a growing appetite not to allow any party, either the DUP or Sinn Fein… in 2023, with pressing and sophisticated demands from the electorate to address all sorts of problems, to have this rubric which allows one party or another to pick up the ball, run off the pitch and say they are not playing anymore, is indefensible, is wrong and it has to stop.”

Mr Hoare also said Westminster should not pander to “Northern Ireland exceptionalism”.

He added: “We have devolution, we have elected MLAs, we have a budget passed. What more do people need?

“We have the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State working flat out to resolve the outstanding protocol issues and, frankly, you would have to be blind, deaf and dumb not to realise the talks are going in a very productive, useful way.

“That is now well down the road of being sorted out.

“We have had the (Supreme) Court judgment.

“The ice upon which these people are standing is now getting thinner and thinner.

“They either have to get off the ice and get on with the job or the ice is going to crack beneath their feet and they are going to find themselves in pretty cold and chilly water.”