Northern Ireland secretary promises clarity on next year’s budget

21 Feb 18

The UK government has suggested it will begin preparing a 2018-19 budget for Northern Ireland in a bid to provide “certainty and clarity”.

In a statement to the House of Commons yesterday, Northern Ireland secretary Karen Bradley said talks to re-establish the power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland had made progress but it was not yet possible for the two parties – the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein – to reach final agreement.

Therefore, in order to provide some financial certainty for next year, she would “take steps to provide clarity on the budget”, updating the Commons as soon as she could.

 “This is clearly not where I want to be but in the absence of an executive in Northern Ireland I will have no other choice,” Bradley told MPs.

She added that the UK government “would not shirk” its responsibility to provide Northern Ireland with stable governance and public services, but the resumption of direct rule would be a last resort after all options to resume devolved government had been exhausted.

Bradley remained resolute on the topic of devolution, saying: “We want local politicians making decisions on local matters to be accountable to a local assembly.”

Northern Ireland has been without a power-sharing executive for nearly 14 months.

Bradley was urged by Nigel Dodds, DUP leader in Westminster, to “do the right thing by all the people of Northern Ireland”. He said it is a “dereliction of duty to continue without a budget and without ministerial decisions.”

This follows DUP leader Arlene Foster’s calls for the UK government to set the budget earlier this month.

However, Sinn Fein is opposed to any form of direct rule from London. Their manifesto states that devolution of fiscal powers is a priority.

A Sinn Fein spokesperson said: “Direct rule is not an option. The two governments must act now.”

Bradley pointed out that April 2018 marks the 20th anniversary of the Belfast Agreement, better known as the Good Friday Agreement, but the landmark legislation will look “decidedly hollow” if Northern Ireland still has no functioning government of its own.

Prime minister Theresa May is due to meet leaders from Sinn Fein and the DUP today.

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