People in NI will not ‘thank or forgive’ threats to bring down Stormont – Lewis

People in Northern Ireland will not “thank or forgive” politicians who threaten to bring down the Executive, the Secretary of State for the region has said.

The Stormont institutions have been rocked by a series of recent rows over Irish language legislation and the Northern Ireland Protocol.

After former first minister and DUP leader Arlene Foster was ousted by her party and replaced by Edwin Poots, Sinn Fein refused initially to re-nominate Michelle O’Neill as deputy First Minister until it received assurances over protections for the Irish language.

After Sinn Fein secured a commitment from the UK Government to progress the cultural legislation at Westminster, the DUP was then rocked by an internal revolt over Mr Poots’s decision to proceed with nominating Paul Givan as the new first minister.

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said people in Northern Ireland wanted to see the political institutions up and running (Brian Lawless/PA)

After Mr Poots was forced to resign, the incoming DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson warned that it is “not realistic” to expect stability in Northern Ireland under the terms of the Brexit deal.

Sir Jeffrey said he would speak to Boris Johnson to underline his message about the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The UK Government and the EU are locked in a dispute over the implementation of the Protocol, the part of the Brexit divorce deal aimed at avoiding a hard border with Ireland, which is opposed by unionists.

During an appearance before the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee, Secretary of State Brandon Lewis was asked about the current political turmoil in Northern Ireland.

Committee chairman Simon Hoare said: “We have many quaint customs across the United Kingdom, none quainter than the threat to bring down the Executive; it seems to be one of those sorts of things we always have to put into our calendars.

Democratic Unionist Party meet to ratify new leader
Incoming DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson (Brian Lawless/PA)

“You know the enormous negative impact that a three-year interregnum had on the quality of lives and the political and policy outcomes for people in Northern Ireland when Stormont didn’t sit. What is your message to the party leaders and their supporters and to others about a threat to bring down the Executive?”

Mr Lewis said: “My position on this has been pretty consistent for a very long time now, my point to anybody making that is, I don’t think the public of Northern Ireland will thank you or forgive you for that.

“I think the public of Northern Ireland, after the impasse of three years, want to see the Executive, particularly at a time of a pandemic.

“I think the public want to see all the political parties in Northern Ireland doing as they’ve done for the bulk of the last year and a half superbly well, especially considering how shortly after the formation of the Executive Covid came upon us, working together for the best interests of Northern Ireland.”

Mr Lewis added: “With five parties there will be times when they will disagree on things but ultimately what we’re seeing with the pandemic is the ability to get decisions made for the people of Northern Ireland. I think that is what people want to see.

“They want to see the Executive up and running and I think there will be very low levels of tolerance if they believe people are going out of their way to take Stormont away as the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly for the people.”