Arlene Foster, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, has said the Northern Ireland Secretary's threat to cut MLA salaries was not an incentive to get parties to strike a deal to restore devolved government at Stormont.
In a recent speech James Brokenshire said that he might have to consider doing so if the deadlock continued, amid an increasing public outcry that politicians were on full pay but not carrying out their full roles.
On Sunday Ms Foster told the BBC that the talks process needed an “end point” but that at this stage the suggestion to cut salaries was offensive. “Pay is not a stick,” she said. “Pay will not determine the outcome of a political process.”
She said that the DUP had no red lines to restoring devolution but that Sinn Féin’s demand for a stand-alone Irish-language Act made it impossible to move forward. She accused the republican party of trying to use the issue as “a way to humiliate unionism”.
Bilateral talks resume
Northern Ireland has been without a government since the Executive collapsed in January. Bilateral talks, rather than multiparty talks between the five main parties and the British and Irish governments, are to resume again at Stormont on Monday.
A breakthrough does not look to be on the horizon. “More of the same,” was how one Stormont source described what is ahead this week.
Although Irish Government officials will be available at Stormont, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has commitments at the United Nations General Assembly, in New York.
The negative effects of not having ministers in place in the North is becoming more apparent as the weeks progress. Ageing victims and survivors of historical institutional abuse are angry and frustrated that they are unable to get access to the redress scheme recommended by the inquiry into their suffering, and they want Westminster to legislate.
The absence of government is also creating a problem around pay for the PSNI, according to the association tasked with representing officers. Last week the British government ended the public-sector pay cap for police officers in England and Wales, who will now get a 1 per cent rise plus a 1 per cent bonus from September, backdated to the start of the month. But the Police Federation for Northern Ireland warned that PSNI officers will not get the increase, as there are no ministers to sign off a deal.
A controversial waste incinerator in the Hightown Quarry area of Co Antrim has meanwhile been given planning approval, in the absence of a minister, by the Department for Infrastructure. The civil servant running the department, Peter May, said he would have preferred a minister to take the decision but the Planning Appeals Commission had been very clear in its recommendation that the application be granted.
The Votes at 16 campaign to extend voting rights to 16- and 17-year-olds was relaunched on Friday, but without MLAs sitting no progress can be made. Also on Friday, the Department of Education published a delayed report indicating that two-thirds of LGBT pupils feel unwelcome in Northern schools. The SDLP, Green Party and Sinn Féin have called for action on the finding. The SDLP’s education spokesman, Colin McGrath, said he will be meeting the permanent secretary of the department on Monday “to discuss what action is being taken to address this significant problem”.
The Sinn Féin MLA John O’Dowd said that Ms Foster “knows well what is required to restore the Executive on a sustainable basis”. “It’s well past time to stop talking about restoring the Executive and get on with the task of doing it.”