1. ITV Report

Budget for Northern Ireland needs to be set in next two weeks, says DUP Westminster leader

Nigel Dodds said he was confident a budget would be set within a fortnight. Credit: ITV/Peston On Sunday

A budget needs to be set for Northern Ireland within the next two weeks, the leader of the DUP in Westminster has said.

Nigel Dodds said he was confident such action would be taken as he rejected a suggestion the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which promised to back Theresa May's minority Government and received a pledge of £1 billion for Northern Ireland, was holding the Government to ransom.

Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley said, in the wake of the failure of talks earlier this month to restore devolution at Stormont, that she would clarify budget arrangements soon.

Speaking on ITV's Peston On Sunday, the deputy DUP leader said: "There needs to be a budget within the next fortnight, and there needs to be decisions taken in order to spend that money, not least the rollout of the money that was secured by the Democratic Unionist Party for all of Northern Ireland."

Without a decision, civil servants were being left in "very, very difficult positions", Mr Dodds said.

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Asked who could take those decisions, he said: "The budget can be set here at Westminster and clearly Parliament can authorise ministers to take whatever decisions are necessary for the good governance of the province."

He added: "That's clearly what should happen and I confidently expect that it will happen."

The current situation is "intolerable", Mr Dodds continued, adding that that "everyone in Norther Ireland is affected by a lack of government... it's in the interests of everyone to have decisions taken in the interests of good governance in the province".

Responding to ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston's suggestion that the DUP was holding the minority Government to ransom on the issue, he said his party was taking a "common sense" approach by calling for ministers to make decisions and set a budget.

He added: "Sinn Fein, who complain about too much influence, well, they should take their seats in Westminster and I think they might find that they would have more influence than they currently have."

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Sinn Fein has warned that direct rule was not an option for Northern Ireland.

In talks earlier in February, the Prime Minister said that the UK Government remains fully committed to the restoration of powersharing, devolution and the Belfast Agreement.

When asked about the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic post-Brexit, Mr Dodds replied that an open border does "not require a customs union", and that there were other options, but people were unwilling to look at them since the border is being used as a political bargaining chip.