In Depth

Direct rule for Northern Ireland: What's at stake as talks expire

UK government control would 'marginalise' province’s voice and give more power to Westminster

Northern Ireland could be back under direct rule from Westminster if its political parties fail to reach a deal by today's extended deadline for power-sharing talks.

However, although it is unlikely the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein will reach an agreement in time, they could be granted a reprieve.

Unionist sources told the Belfast Telegraph they believe Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire will suspend talks until after July to allow the politicians to take their holidays.

"He can introduce direct rule or call another Assembly election in the autumn, but talks insiders believe he will opt for continuing discussions between the parties at Stormont after a break," adds the paper.

If direct rule were imposed, it would be for the first time since 2007, when Tony Blair was prime minister, the BBC reports.

It would need a law to be passed in Parliament suspending the Northern Ireland Assembly, after which the government would take control of issues such as policing, prisons, transport and housing, which are devolved to Stormont.

The province has been governed by Westminster for 32 out of the last 44 years.

According to Professor Rick Wilford of Queen's University Belfast in agendaNi magazine, it would also "marginalise" the province's voice and give more power to the wants of Westminster. 

He adds: "Should [direct rule] be renewed again, then expect an expanded Northern Ireland Office pursuing a largely unbridled UK government agenda, not least in relation to Brexit, and a severely diminished level of parliamentary scrutiny."

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