Karen Bradley to provide ‘budget clarity’ on Northern Ireland

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Karen Bradley has committed to provide budget clarity for Northern Ireland’s public services.

She declined to immediately reimpose direct rule from Westminster and raised the prospect of calling another Assembly election.

The Northern Ireland Secretary has come under pressure from the DUP to appoint ministers to take decisions on schools and hospitals and pass a budget before they run out of cash.

It is 13 months since powersharing collapsed at Stormont in a row over a botched green energy scheme.

Ms Bradley said: “I intend to take steps to provide clarity on the budget and will update the House (of Commons) as soon as possible.

“This is clearly not where I want to be but in the absence of an Executive I have no other choice.”

Senior Democratic Unionist Nigel Dodds said it was a “dereliction of duty” to continue without a spending plan or ministers to make decisions.

Ms Bradley said she was working to ensure budget certainty for civil servants and she would return to the House of Commons.

She also told the Commons fresh elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly could be called if all other viable options were exhausted.

The Northern Ireland Secretary said the Government will not shirk its responsibilities.

“Things in Northern Ireland cannot simply remain in a state of limbo. Challenging decisions will have to be taken.”

She said commemorations of the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement later this year risked looking decidedly hollow.

Sinn Fein opposes the return of direct rule and has called for an intergovernmental council involving the Irish Government to consider the issue.

Dublin has said it wants to protect the Good Friday Agreement and the British Government has echoed that stance and said it believes in devolution.

Sinn Fein’s Northern Ireland leader Michelle O’Neill said Ms Bradley singularly failed to progress those issues which the British Government is directly responsible for.

“They must release the legacy inquest funding immediately and issue the consultation on the legacy mechanisms.

“The fact that the DUP failed to close on last week’s draft agreement and chose to collapse the process does not abdicate the British Government from their responsibilities. ”

Prime Minister Theresa May is due to meet the leaders of the DUP and Sinn Fein at the House of Commons on Wednesday afternoon, Downing Street said.

Mrs May’s official spokesman said: “The focus is on restoring devolved government to Northern Ireland.”

Asked about suggestions by Tory backbencher Owen Paterson that the Good Friday Agreement may have outlived its usefulness, the spokesman said: “The Government remains absolutely steadfastly committed to the Belfast Agreement and is currently working with partners in order to get the devolved administration up and running as soon as possible.

“That’s what the Prime Minister is going to be talking about when she meets with the DUP and Sinn Fein tomorrow.”

Meanwhile, parts of a draft agreement text between the DUP and Sinn Fein were published on broadcaster Eamonn Mallie’s website.

He wrote: “On page 5 under the heading: Respecting Languages and Culture, there is specific reference to the Irish (Respecting Language and Diversity) Bill and the Ulster Scots (Respecting Language and Diversity) Bill and a Respecting Language and Diversity Bill.

“It has to be stated that square brackets obtain in this eight-line paragraph – meaning it had not yet been signed off and agreed.

“The document spells out that draft legislation is in an annex.”

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