Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has urged the Democratic Unionist Party to “honor their agreements” on Irish language legislation for the North as Jeffrey Donaldson emerges as the frontrunner to take the party leadership.
The Fine Gael chief also said the Irish government would go the extra mile to make sure the Northern Ireland protocol works, but that would require concessions from London.
Applications for the successor of Edwin Poots, who stepped down as DUP leader on Thursday after just a few weeks in that post, opened on Saturday and will end at noon on Tuesday.
The new leader is expected to be elected on Saturday. Lagan Valley MP Donaldson, who was narrowly beaten in last month’s leadership race, is widely tipped to take over.
Party sources told Sunday Life that unless there is a “significant change” in plans to introduce Irish language legislation, the DUP would collapse Stormont’s executive and force an election to the Assembly in the fall.
Mr Varadkar, defending the commitment to introduce Irish law in the New Decade, New Approach multi-party agreement, which restored power sharing in January last year, Mr Varadkar said it was “ something that shouldn’t really threaten anyone ”.
“It is similar to the legislation already in place in Scotland and Wales, and it would be part of a larger package to recognize people who are British in Northern Ireland and people coming from a Unionist perspective.” , did he declare.
“It was agreed. It has been accepted by governments, it has been accepted by all parties, and it should be respected. People should honor their agreements.
Mr Varadkar said the deal was not “old history”.
“I don’t understand how anyone, whatever their background, wouldn’t honor a deal he made just a year ago,” he told RTÉ.
Mr Poots resigned amid a party revolt after a deal with Sinn Féin, in which the UK government agreed to push Irish language legislation through Westminster if it was not passed by Stormont.
The outgoing party leader also defied the wishes of the majority of his MPs and MLAs by appointing his close ally Paul Givan as the new Prime Minister of Stormont, replacing Arlene Foster, whose ousting caused resentment in his ranks.
A few days after his installation, Mr Givan was informed that he will have to step down as prime minister when the new party leader is elected.
Sinn Féin warned that the DUP must be “faithful” to “commitments and agreements” if it is to support the new prime minister of the party.
Chris Hazzard, Sinn Féin MP for South Down, said power-sharing had been re-established “on the basis that commitments made” would “finally be fulfilled in legislation”.
“When people watch what is going on in the DUP, if it weren’t so bad it would be a joke,” he told the BBC.
“There is no doubt that the DUP has found itself in a dead end of its own in recent years.
“I think they have been reluctant and unable to uphold people’s rights.
“Despite all the cries about protocol and Brexit, we have to remember that it was gay conversion therapy that brought down Arlene Foster, and it was respect for Irish language rights that brought down Edwin Poots. It is a truly deplorable situation.
During the last leadership campaign, Mr Donaldson pledged to leave his post as an MP in Westminster to return to the Assembly and assume the role of Prime Minister.
One possibility is that he may seek to replace Ms Foster as MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone when she steps down, or he could wait for the next Assembly election, in which case he could appoint an interim prime minister. .
The move would also trigger a by-election in Westminster in the Lagan Valley, a seat Mr Donaldson has held since 1997.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood accused the DUP of “positioning itself to fabricate another political crisis that will once again threaten our local institutions”.
“In a desperate attempt to stabilize their own party, they are recklessly prepared to destabilize decentralization,” he said.
“No political party or government should indulge in this recklessness – the vast majority of the public will not, so no one else should,” added the MP for Foyle.
Meanwhile, Mr Varadkar agreed that the provisions of the post-Brexit protocol in Northern Ireland had created “some practical difficulties” for northern businesses.
Tánaiste signaled that efforts continued to minimize checks and controls on goods crossing between Britain and the North, adding that he would put more emphasis on the benefits of the protocol.
“But it takes commitment; it forces the UK government to make some concessions, ”he said.
“The EU has already done a lot. Frankly, they haven’t been so open on the part of the UK government.
Mr Varadkar said the protocol was a direct result of the Brexit chosen by the UK government “with the support of the DUP”.
“There must be checks and controls somewhere. Our view is that it is better for them to occur in two or three ports rather than at border crossings in 10 border counties, ”he added.
“It’s not as if the protocol is part of an evil scheme of the Irish government or the European Union. This happened because [the British government] rejected the single market, they rejected the customs union, rejected the backstop, which would have been a UK-wide solution.
“This is how we ended up with the protocol, and the people talking about it now need to be a little more honest about it.”