'No urgency' from Secretary of State to restore the Stormont government, says O'Neill

  • UTV Political Editor Tracey Magee reports

Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O'Neill has said there is "no urgency" from the Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris in relation to restoring the Stormont government.

Ms O'Neill and Sinn Fein MLA Conor Murphy met with Mr Heaton-Harris at Hillsborough castle on Wednesday.

"This is not acceptable and not tolerable, so what we wanted to impress upon himself (Heaton-Harris) today was what is the plan for the restoration of the executive?," she said.

"It's unfortunate to say I don't believe there's any urgency there on his part. I think that was certainly our reflection of the conversation that we just had.

"We have been calling since the election for a meeting of the British-Irish intergovernmental conference, that's basically a summit between both governments, the Irish government and the British government, that's now going to happen, I think over the course of a couple of weeks.

"But we need some urgency, there needs to be a real plan and we need to understand when we're going to have a restored executive and assembly, but certainly the emphasis of our conversation today was around, one the restoration, but two, the scale and savagery of the cuts that are being imposed upon the public because the DUP are in a standoff with the British government."

The Department of Health said it is facing a shortfall of £470 million while the Department of Infrastructure said its budget pressures may result in streetlights being turned off and roads not being gritted in winter.

The Department for Communities said it is facing a £111.2 million resource funding gap, and the Education Authority are looking at a shortfall in the region of £200 million.

On Tuesday, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson confirmed that more financial support for Northern Ireland is part of discussions with the Government.

Ms O'Neill also confirmed a meeting of the British-Irish intergovernmental conference will be held to establish a plan for the restoration of the Stormont executive.

"The two governments will come together, we've been calling for this immediately after the election, and it's now time for them both to come together as co-guarantors," she said.

"Let's have a plan on the table, how are we going to restore the executive."

Sinn Fein MLA Conor Murphy said a potential financial package from the UK government upon the restoration of the Stormont assembly would not be "one party's wishlist".

"We also made the point to Chris Heaton-Harris that if there has to be a discussion, it's a discussion which involves all of the party's and the civil service," he said.

"This isn't one party's wishlist, we have ideas, the other parties have ideas in relation to what is needed to try and offset some of the worst damage that the British government's budget has made, so he agreed, he accepted that point, that this is a discussion for all parties and senior civil servants as well."

Ms O'Neill said her party would be meeting with Jayne Brady, head of the NI civil service to discuss budgetary concerns, but also added that all parties needed to be involved in setting the budget.

"It has to be the collective view and will of all the parties working together here to achieve the most efficient budget that allows us to actually deliver good public services," she said.

Michelle O'Neill said representatives from the party will be at events for the visit of the King on Wednesday and Thursday.

"Yes, I think there's a whole raft of engagements and some of our MPs will be at local events in their constituencies," she told reporters.

Sinn Fein MP for North Belfast John Finucane was one of the political figures welcoming the King and Queen as they arrived at Hazelbank Park in Newtownabbey, Co Antrim, on Wednesday.

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