Bradley rejects calls to make statement on North talks

Northern Secretary says majority of pledged £1bn will not be spent until Executive restored

Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley giving evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at the House of Commons, London. Photograph: PA Wire

Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley giving evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at the House of Commons, London. Photograph: PA Wire

 

Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley has played down the significance of February 7th as a milestone in the talks to restore an Executive, rejecting calls from MPs to make a formal statement on the status of the negotiations.

Ms Bradley told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at Westminster that she would answer questions in the House of Commons next Wednesday, as the secretary of state does every four weeks.

“I can see the appetite for a statement. What I wouldn’t want to do is to make a statement and then spend the whole of the statement saying I can’t answer that question because we’re at a sensitive point in the talks. What I don’t want to be is in the position of giving you a commitment that I will make a statement in which I will say nothing. I will make a statement when I have something to say,” she said.

When Ms Bradley announced a new round of talks between the parties on January 18th, she said she would update parliament on their progress on February 7th. A number of MPs on the committee, including its Conservative chairman Andrew Murrison, urged the secretary of state to think again, rather than being “dragged to the House” to make a statement.

Ms Bradley raised DUP hackles two weeks ago when she said that the £1 billion (€1.14bn) promised by the Conservatives in return for their support at Westminster could not be spent until the Northern Ireland Executive was restored. She retracted the claim within minutes, acknowledging that £50 million had already been made available. On Wednesday, however, she made clear that most of the money would not be spent until the devolved institutions were back in place.

“The billion pounds recognises the unique circumstances and specific pressures Northern Ireland is under. That is why £50 million has already been made available for addressing the immediate pressures in the NHS and in education. Much of the money has been promised for infrastructure, things like the York Street Interchange. Now whilst the money could be given, it is not realistic to ask civil servants to make those decisions about such arrangements,” she said.

“The money could be made available through the estimates process tomorrow. But without devolved government in place, the things it has been put aside for and allocated to address cannot properly be delivered.”