In the aftermath of what can only be described as a historic election victory for Sinn Fein, Michelle O’Neill has called on the DUP to “get off the fence” and take steps to help restore the institutions. Her comments come as party leaders meet Jayne Brady, head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, to discuss budgetary pressures. Last week’s local council election results saw Sinn Fein making groundbreaking gains across Northern Ireland.
With the DUP’s continued boycott, civil servants are responsible for running public services. Earlier today, Michelle O’Neill said restoring the Assembly in autumn wasn’t ‘good enough’, adding the institutions should have been up and running again since May. Speaking to reporters outside Stormont before meeting civil servants, O’Neill said:
“Civil servants are in a very desperately difficult situation in taking decisions where there’s no democratic accountability.
“That’s not good enough for the public here.
“So while these discussions are welcome, and yes, we should be doing everything we can to prepare, what we need to hear is, what is the political will from the DUP to get around the executive table and actually to make it work and actually have an executive reformed.”
She rejected the suggestion that the executive may only resume in autumn:
I don’t think the autumn timeframe is an acceptable timeframe.
“I think where we need to be is around the executive table today, working together, actually trying to stave off some of the worst impact of the Tory austerity agenda.
“But I think that while today’s meeting is welcome, it’s good that we’re here, it’s good that we’re engaged, but what we need to hear is what’s the political will, we need to hear the DUP are going to get off the fence and actually join the rest of us and get into the executive.”
Party leaders seek £1bn funding boost
After the meeting earlier today, party leaders said they need a £1bn funding boost to ease budgetary pressures ahead of power restoration at Stormont. Jayne Brady told party leaders in a letter during the run-up to the talks that “a governance gap” had compounded pressure on the Northern Ireland budget.
The DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson told reporters he was committed to seeking extra resources from Westminster with the other parties.
UUP leader Doug Beatty spoke of a sombre meeting because of Northern Ireland’s governance issues and difficult fiscal position, welcoming all parties’ “workman-like” approach.
Meanwhile, Alliance Party leader Stephen Farry described the meeting as constructive, with party representatives pledging to work towards restoring the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Heaton-Harris rejects suggestions of ‘punishment budget’
Northern Ireland Secretary Christ Heaton-Harris’ budget announcement means officials will have to find £800m in revenue-raising measures and cuts. He rejected suggestions that funding shortages were Westminster’s way of punishing the province for failing to run a functioning administration.
Michelle O’Neill refuted Heaton-Harris’s assertions that he was doing everything possible to help restore the Stormont Assembly, adding there appeared no urgency on the secretary’s part.
In her letter to parties leaders, Jayne Brady said that even a functioning administration would find Northern Ireland’s budgetary position exceedingly difficult:
“An incoming executive would be faced with a series of choices, made all the more challenging because they would fall to be taken part way through the financial year.”
DUP retains Stormont veto despite electoral disaster
Sinn Fein’s electoral triumph over all parties has not shifted the DUP’s position. Instead, party leader Jeffrey Donaldson said his party’s position had been backed at the polls, adding it would be a “disservice to the people of Northern Ireland” for the DUP to return to government without addressing the remaining issues.
The DUP’s current preconditions now include tackling Windsor Framework issues as well as receiving Westminster’s financial assurances.
“We are developing a range of proposals for the government, they are aware of the outline of what it is we need.”
Meanwhile, in the House of Commons, Teresa May had a few words for the DUP leader.
— derek alcorn (@derek_alcorn) April 18, 2023