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Move beyond a ‘sticking plaster’ approach to NI powersharing, MPs tell Bradley

Karen Bradley has been urged to do more to restore an assembly in Stormont, where powersharing collapsed last year (Victoria Jones/PA) Photo: PA Wire/PA Images

The Government must “move beyond a sticking plaster approach” to the collapse in powersharing in Northern Ireland, MPs have warned.

Moves by Secretary of State Karen Bradley to dock the pay of Assembly politicians while the long-running impasse continues were welcomed by the Commons Northern Ireland Committee.

But it cautioned against using civil servants in the absence of a functioning legislature at Stormont, saying they should not “continue to be expected to make determinations that in a functioning democracy fall to Ministers”.

Last week Northern Ireland Secretary Mrs Bradley announced a plan to cut Assembly members’ pay and bring forward legislation giving greater clarity around civil servants’ powers to make decisions in the absence of a functioning Executive.

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Powersharing collapsed early last year in a row over the DUP’s handling of a botched green energy scheme and a dispute over identity issues like the Irish language has seen repeated rounds of negotiations fail.

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on Friday released Government responses to a report on devolution it published in May, which had urged Mrs Bradley to increase the tempo of ministerial decision making.

Committee chairman Andrew Murrison said the Government had “started to think about plugging the democratic deficit” by acting on MLA pay and moves to restore the Policing Board.

But he added: “We are glad that the Secretary of State has acknowledged that more clarity is needed on the powers of civil servants to take decisions in the light of recent legal challenge.

“However, whilst we keenly await further detail on this, we are clear that civil servants should not continue to be expected to make determinations that in a functioning democracy fall to Ministers.

“There is no evidence in the Government response to our report, nor in the Secretary of State’s comments last week, to suggest that talks to restore devolution are imminent.

“We must move beyond a sticking plaster approach and do more to facilitate sustainable governance in the region with proper accountability and scrutiny mechanisms.”

DUP leader Arlene Foster and deputy leader Nigel Dodds in Westminster Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Earlier this week Democratic Unionists leader Arlene Foster warned the Government not to “subcontract” its role in restoring power sharing after calls were made for independent mediation in the dispute.

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O’Neill met Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney in Dublin and said it was disgraceful an Executive was not in place.

She added: “The reason we have not had it is because of the British Government and their toxic relationship with the DUP.”