Cate McCurry, PA
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said it is “regrettable” people in Northern Ireland could be facing another election, as the DUP continues its stance in refusing to re-enter government.
Mr Varadkar urged the DUP to get back into government as political parties in Northern Ireland make a final effort to restore the Assembly on Thursday.
MLAs will return to Stormont in a last attempt to restore the executive before fresh Assembly elections are called.
The sitting will see an attempt to elect a new speaker – a prerequisite before an executive can be appointed – but that bid is set to fail as the DUP will use its veto to block it.
If no ministerial executive is in place on Friday, the UK government assumes a legal responsibility to call another election.
Britain's Northern Ireland secretary Chris Heaton-Harris has repeatedly warned that he will call a Stormont poll if Friday’s deadline passes without a devolved executive being formed.
Mr Varadkar said that if an election goes ahead, it is impossible to predict its outcome.
“As things look today, the results will be much the same as it was in the last election, with no clear majority for unionist combined or nationalist combined,” Mr Varadkar said.
“Probably Sinn Féin will be the largest party again. I think there will be a clear majority of MLAs who don’t want the protocol scrapped, re-elected and that has to be taken into account.
“But you can never predict for sure what’s going to happen in any election. But I do regret that is happening. It is happening because one party has decided not to participate, and that’s the DUP.
“I think that’s very much regrettable but if that happens, we’ll deal with the situation as it develops.”
He said that the parties in the North, including the DUP, will get a mandate from the people in the region to sit in the Assembly.
“People come out on election day and put a number or an X next to your name because they want you to be in government, they want you to make decisions,” Mr Varadkar added.
“I would like to hear the voice of the DUP in Northern Ireland government. But that’s not possible at the moment and that goes to the other parties as well.
“I think we would have been able to manage Brexit and what happened a lot better had the Northern Ireland Assembly and executive been up and running, it wasn’t at the time, it isn’t now.”
The Fine Gael leadere also echoed comments by Taoiseach Micheál Martin who said there cannot be a return to direct rule from Westminster if powersharing is not restored.
“That wouldn’t be acceptable and things have moved on so much in Northern Ireland and that is something that will be conveyed very clearly to the British government and the Taoiseach has done that already,” Mr Varadkar said.