Alliance calls for emergency law to protect jobs in North

Civil service warns on lack of budget as party delegations meet Northern Secretary

DUP leader Arlene Foster has denied there is a revolt in the DUP over it losing 10 seats in last week’s Assembly election. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire.

DUP leader Arlene Foster has denied there is a revolt in the DUP over it losing 10 seats in last week’s Assembly election. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire.

 

Negotiations aimed at saving devolved government at Stormont are continuing, amid calls from the Alliance Party for emergency legislation to protect Northern Ireland’s economy and jobs.

The civil service warned on Tuesday that the lack of budget was a “difficult and pressing issue”, as delegations from the five main parties met Northern Secretary James Brokenshire to try to find a way to restore powersharing.

Alliance deputy leader Dr Stephen Farry said politicians “cannot engage in a game of ‘chicken’ with people’s jobs, prospects, health and safety”, as they seek to come to an arrangement.

Alliance has written to Mr Brokenshire asking him to amend the Northern Ireland Act to provide the civil service with greater flexibility and discretion, should an agreement on forming an Executive not be reached by a March 27th deadline.

Sinn Féin’s northern leader Michelle O’Neill accused Mr Brokenshire of “waffle” over funding legacy inquests, while disagreement between the DUP and Sinn Féin over Arlene Foster returning to government also remains an issue.

Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald claimed Ms Foster’s credibility as a member of the Executive was “zero”, while the investigation into the the botched RHI scheme is under way.

Resisting calls

Ms Foster, the DUP leader, is so far resisting calls for her not to return as first minister while the inquiry takes place. She was trade and investment minister when the scheme, which is expected to result in an overspend of some £490 million (€566 million) over 20 years, was introduced.

She has denied there was a revolt within the DUP over it losing 10 seats in last week’s Assembly election, the result of which left unionist politicians no longer holding the majority of seats at Stormont.

On Tuesday, Ms Foster met her new Assembly team for the first time.

“We have had an excellent group meeting, where we have had a full and open discussion around the election campaign, the result and of course the negotiations which are going on at the moment,” she said. “I am delighted with the support I have received from all of my colleagues.”

Former Stormont Executive press secretary David Gordon told BBC Radio Ulster he expected the RHI inquiry to continue into next year, and that Sinn Féin was effectively asking Ms Foster to stand aside from being first minister for a year.

He said that unless a compromise was found, “the choice is work with Arlene Foster or let James Brokenshire take over”. He said he believed a deal between the DUP and Sinn Féin was possible, but not within the three-week timeframe for forming a government.

If the March 27th deadline is not met, new legislation would need to be passed to avoid a fresh election, and matters are further complicated by Northern Ireland not having a budget in place.

Meanwhile, former northern secretary Lord Hain urged British prime minister Theresa May to call a summit to restore the Executive. If this was not done, he said, the return of direct rule would be inevitable.