Stormont in unified call for fair funding for Northern Ireland – O’Neill

Stormont has sent a clear, unified call to the Government for fair funding for Northern Ireland, First Minister Michelle O’Neill said.

The Stormont parties united on Tuesday to call on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to give Northern Ireland the “resources that it needs to deliver effective public services”.

The motion was passed unanimously following a debate in the chamber.

An amendment by the Opposition SDLP calling on Finance Minister Caoimhe Archibald to work with ministers to produce costed plans for immediate priorities was also passed.

Meanwhile, the Alliance Party has called for an independent commission to set out recommendations around a fiscal framework for Northern Ireland.

It came the day after Mr Sunak and Irish premier Leo Varadkar visited Parliament Buildings in Belfast to mark the return of devolved government in Northern Ireland after a two-year effective collapse.

Stormont Assembly
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at Parliament Buildings in Belfast on Monday (Handout/PA)

Earlier, Ms Archibald said she has written to the Treasury requesting a meeting to discuss “significant financial pressures” facing public services.

The Government has pledged a £3.3 billion package for a re-established Stormont administration.

However, Northern Ireland politicians have said the sum is insufficient to address public sector pay awards, public services and infrastructure.

In the Assembly chamber on Tuesday, Sinn Fein MLA Sinead Ennis brought a motion, backed by all the parties, calling for the Executive to receive the “resources it needs to deliver effective public services”.

During the debate, First Minister Michelle O’Neill said she and deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly felt it was important that a “very clear sign of a shared view of the importance of the matter was sent out”.

She told MLAs they are sending a “very clear message to the British Government”.

“We’re not asking for special treatment. We’re asking for fairness and equality. We are asking for funding that reflects the needs of the people that we serve and we are asking for a funding model that is taken for granted in Scotland, Wales, but it’s being denied to us here,” she said.

“Just yesterday, we had the opportunity to meet with the Prime Minister and we put that to him directly and we presented him with a letter setting all of the facts and clear evidence from the independent fiscal council that our funding is below made clear evidence, that this is the only devolved administration that is being treated in this unfair way, but the Government still seeks to ignore that evidence.”

She added: “The Government had hoped that we would be bowled over by the headline figure (£3.3 billion) and rush to accept it without due diligence … that’s not how we roll.

“We’re determined here to work together. We are determined here to try and find a better case for public services and I look forward to that battle that we have ahead.”

O'Neill and Little-Pengelly
Ms O’Neill and deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly were united in their call for increased funding (Oliver McVeigh/PA)

“That sends a very strong and positive message and I hope it sends a very, very clear indication to the Government that we are serious about this … this is something that we have to get right,” she said.

“We absolutely welcome that there’s some short term support but what we really need is long term stability that we can get from some fiscal guarantees, and the concept of charging hard-pressed families here more for poorer services is not something that we will accept.”

Meanwhile, the chairs and vice chairs of Stormont committees were appointed during Tuesday’s sitting.

Those appointed included Sinn Fein MLA Declan Kearney as chairman of a new committee to scrutinise the workings of the Windsor Framework. DUP MLA David Brooks will serve as vice chair.

Meanwhile Sinn Fein MLA Caral Ni Chuilin was elected as the Principal Deputy Speaker.

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