Hay: We’re at a ten year low

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Veteran Londonderry unionist William Hay says the Stormont institutions have been on life-support for a long time and have now sunk to a nadir not plumbed in almost a decade.

But Lord Hay of Ballyore has warned that direct rule and collapsing the regional political institutions are not the answer.

The long-standing DUP representative spent seven years hammering all sides of the Northern Ireland Assembly into line between 2007 and 2014 as Speaker of the Assembly and was last year elevated to the House of Lords at Westminster where he has taken his seat as a crossbench peer.

Addressing his colleagues during a recent debate on the current political impasse, Lord Hay delivered a stark analysis.

He said: “Let me say clearly to the House that these are very serious issues. We are probably in the worst situation in Northern Ireland since 2006 or 2007.

“I have been saying for some time to the parties in Northern Ireland that I believe the Assembly has been on a life-support machine for a long time - the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, was right.

“As far back as June 2, after the Secretary of State met the five parties along with Charlie Flanagan, the Foreign Affairs Minister from Dublin, she made clear how bleak was the outcome of those talks and warned us of the possibility of Westminster taking back powers relating to welfare reform.

“I believe that that would be a backward step, and the Secretary of State has said that it would be a last resort.”

Lord Hay said trust needed to be rebuilt but warned that the only way to do that was by staying in, not shouting from the outside.

“The other issue in Northern Ireland is the breakdown of trust within the parties. This, too, has been going on for several months. I ask the Government what action they can take to try to build trust in all the political parties in Northern Ireland?

“I also firmly believe - and say to the House - that the only way that this can be resolved is by staying in, not by walking away. It cannot be resolved by people standing at the door and shouting in; they must be in there, round the table, trying to resolve these very serious issues,” he said.

Lord Hay also said he did not believe that bringing the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) was the answer to current concerns about the continuing existence or otherwise of the Provisional IRA.

“On the issue of recreating in some form the IMC, I have to say that it would not work at this moment, unless it had a different remit with different powers.”