Brokenshire sets budget for North but says no to direct rule

Ian Paisley says it is time to recognise that devolution is not working

James Brokenshire says he still believes agreement can be reached at Stormont. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

James Brokenshire says he still believes agreement can be reached at Stormont. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

 

James Brokenshire has set a budget for Northern Ireland but he rejected calls to take the next step towards direct rule by appointing ministers at Westminster to take political control at Stormont.

Introducing emergency legislation in the House of Commons on Monday, the Northern Ireland Secretary said he was taking the budget measures with “utmost reluctance”.

Mr Brokenshire said the budget, which increases overall spending by 3.2 per cent on last year, was necessary because the civil service in the North would otherwise run out of money by the end of the month.

“That would mean no funding available for public services, with all of the negative impacts that would accompany such a cliff edge,” he said.

Democratic Unionist Party MP Ian Paisley pointed out that, in the absence of a functioning executive and assembly in Northern Ireland, civil servants there were operating with no political accountability either at Stormont or Westminster.

“That is not sustainable for any period of time whatsoever: there must be political accountability and he must move there urgently to appoint ministers to take political control,” he said.

Mr Brokenshire agreed that there was a lack of political accountability but he said he continued to believe that Sinn Féin and the DUP could reach agreement to restore the executive. He said he would not move further towards direct rule by appointing ministers at Westminster to take control of departments at Stormont.

“That it is not a step that I do intend to take, as he will know, while there is an opportunity for an executive to be formed, and there have been discussions that have been ongoing – even last week between his party and Sinn Féin to find resolution around the outstanding issues between the respective parties that can form that executive,” he said.

Dublin and London

Labour’s Conor McGinn said that, if the talks in Northern Ireland could not be revived, the next step would not be direct rule from Westminster but a partnership between Dublin and London to govern Northern Ireland.

“The alternative to a functioning Executive and Assembly is not a consultative assembly and is not direct rule. It is the onward implementation of Strands 2 and 3 of the Good Friday Agreement. There won’t be direct rule in isolation. An inter-governmental conference would have to be convened and Northern Ireland would be governed in a partnership between the Irish Government and the UK government, as envisaged in the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement,” he said.

Mr Brokenshire insisted that the parties in Northern Ireland could yet reach agreement but Mr Paisley said it was time for the British government to recognise that devolution had ceased to work in Northern Ireland.

“I’d love to see it working. But at some point you have to stand up and say the emperor has no clothes. And that’s essentially what is happening in Northern Ireland. And the worst thing that this parliament can allow to happen to Ulster is for a sense of drift to take place. Leadership has to be respected. There has to be firm grip taken of the situation and that must be taken by her majesty’s government,” he said.