Westminster to impose budget on Northern Ireland as talks fail

Northern Secretary seeks legal advice on pay for Assembly members during political impasse

The Northern Secretary James Brokenshire   said that in the absence of an Executive being established he had to begin moves to introduce a budget at Westminster. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images.

The Northern Secretary James Brokenshire said that in the absence of an Executive being established he had to begin moves to introduce a budget at Westminster. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images.

 

Northern Secretary James Brokenshire is to begin bringing in a budget for Northern Ireland through Westminster after the DUP and Sinn Féin failed to break the political deadlock holding up the restoration of Stormont.

Mr Brokenshire said that in the absence of an Executive, the budget bill would be considered at Westminster when MPs return from their November recess on Monday week.

Sinn Fein previously warned that any attempt to bring in a budget through Westminster would mean failure and the end of this phase of negotiations.

“Sinn Féin is disappointed that the last few weeks of negotiations have ended in failure,” the party’s Northern leader Michelle O’Neill said.

She said the talks broke down over the DUP’s refusal to sign up to a number of “rights issues” including an Irish language acts, same sex marriage, the holding of outstanding Troubles-related inquests and a bill of rights for Northern Ireland.

However, DUP East Derry MP Gregory Campbell accused Sinn Fein of producing a “shopping list of preconditions” before it would re-establish the Executive.

On an Irish language act, viewed as the key obstacle to a deal, he said Irish already received ample public funding for those who wished to speak or learn it.

“It already is catered for in ways that no other minority language is. We cannot and will not be party to an agreement that elevates the Irish language not only above all others, but above health, education and other vital public services,” said Mr Campbell.

“The DUP stands ready to form an Executive today. We want devolution,” he added. “Arlene Foster has led our talks team and is rightly frustrated that government is being held back by a narrow political agenda.”

Mr Brokenshire said he had hoped to be in a position to introduce legislation at Westminster this week to reinstate the Executive but this was now not possible .

Mr Brokenshire insisted passing a budget did not mean a return to British direct rule, arguing it would be the work of Northern Ireland civil servants and be reflective of the wishes of the non-sitting Executive.

Mr Brokenshire said he would be seeking “independent advice” on what to do about Assembly members continuing to receive their pay. He did not specify whether he would scrap or reduce their salaries and said any move in this area would require Westminster legislation.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said he acknowledged Mr Brokenshire took his budget decision with the “utmost reluctance”.

The issues which caused the deadlock “go to the heart of the divisions in society here in Northern Ireland” and so agreement on them was always going to be very challenging, he said.

“However, I have always believed that it is possible to reach an honourable compromise which reflects the core principles of the agreement - partnership, equality and mutual respect.

“Over the past number of weeks there have been sincere efforts to stretch for that and measurable progress in finding an agreed outcome had been made, but we are not there yet,” added Mr Coveney.

The SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the failure of the negotiations was delivering British direct rule to Northern Ireland. “For nationalism in the North, the return of direct rule is deeply serious and a huge step backwards from the political accommodation we all signed up to,” he added.

Ulster Unionist Party leader Robin Swann said Sinn Féin and the DUP couldn’t agree in government, and they can’t agree outside government either”.

“This impasse isn’t about rights. This is about Sinn Féin demands. Sinn Féin are incapable of distinguishing between the two,” he added.