Lord Hay of Ballyore says he was seriously worried direct rule from London was on the way as the Stormont institutions teetered on the brink over the past number of months.
But he has welcomed the ‘Fresh Start’ deal, which he says helped secure sustainability in Northern Ireland and prevents £2m being paid back to the Treasury every week.
“The agreement secures sustainability, especially for the Northern Ireland budget. There is an urgency to this legislation: Northern Ireland continues to lose money back to the Treasury until this Bill is passed. It is £2 million a week, as my noble friend Lord Browne said, which is a huge drain on the resources of the Northern Ireland Executive,” said Lord Hay.
“Over the last four years there have been attempts to resolve the welfare question, which has contributed to the political crisis in Northern Ireland, especially in the Executive’s finances.
“However, I believe that financial sustainability of the Executive is crucial for the success of devolved government in Northern Ireland, and that requires implementation of welfare reform.
“It certainly looked likely that this very issue would bring down devolved institutions in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland could not continue to lose money every week because it did not implement welfare changes,” he said.
The veteran politician said he was very worried non-agreement would lead to the re-imposition of direct rule.
“At one point I remember talking to people back home who said, even within the corridors of the Northern Ireland Assembly, that that was a very strong possibility,” he said.
“There was a serious worry that direct rule would be coming from London. The stalemate that existed had not only financial costs but a credibility cost for the institutions in Northern Ireland. Their credibility was totally and absolutely called into question.”
He described ‘Fresh Start as a milestone in the history of Northern Ireland.