Extra £1bn needed to ease financial pressures in Northern Ireland say Stormont parties

Parties met with the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service to discuss financial pressures

Stormont parties need to make a collective ask to Treasury for a sum in excess of £1bn to resolve some of the financial pressures facing Northern Ireland, the deputy leader of the Alliance Party has said.

Stephen Farry made the comments after a cross-party meeting about financial and issues facing Northern Ireland which was chaired by the head of the civil service.

In a direct appeal to the DUP, the North Down MP emphasised that "every week, every day that goes past, the consequences of the budget cuts get more severe". 

The DUP has boycotted a return to power-sharing since the Assembly elections in May 2022 due to its ongoing concerns around the Northern Ireland Protocol - a post-Brexit trade agreement.

Parties eligible to join the executive at the Assembly gathered at Stormont Castle in Belfast on Thursday.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Dr Farry said it had outlined the "huge pressure on public finances".

He outlined that these were "pushing £1bn already" and that in order to do "proper transformation, we would need some resources to go and above that as well".

"I think we are talking in-and-around £1bn and potentially more than that in practice."

"There is a commitment on the back of today's meeting that parties will be meeting again in the very near future and over the next few days the civil service will do more work in advance of that," said the deputy Alliance leader.

Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie echoed the financial ask and said £1.1bn was the "basic baseline figure".

"We're in a dire situation, a dire situation that is going to be difficult to get out of," he told reporters.

"Even when we manage to get an executive up and running again, and I think we will, it's all about when not if, when we get the executive up and running it will not get any easier, it'll still be a difficult situation. But we may have the levers to make it slightly easier."

Meanwhile DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said his party would continue to engage with the Government to resolve its concerns over the protocol, but added that more work needed done to "change the way we fund out public services".

"Our current funding formula for Northern Ireland doesn't work," said the Laganvalley MP.

"What we need is a needs based approach to our budget and that's what we continue to seek from the Government and we'll work with other parties towards that objective.

"Fundamentally, we need to change the way we fund our public services alongside the reform of those public services.

"The key to political stability in Northern Ireland in the current context is restoring our place within the UK and its internal market and I want to see legislation brought forward to give effect to that and I want to see practical measures put in place that protect our ability to trade with our biggest market."

It comes after Sinn Féin vice-president Michelle O'Neill said it was "not good enough" that the Stormont Executive would be restored in the Autumn.

"I don't accept the Autumn as a timeframe, I don't think that's good enough. The time for restoring an executive was last May," said Ms O'Neill.

"The people have just endorsed positive leadership again," she added. "The people have just fully endorses a fully-functioning executive, so I don't think the Autumn timeframe is an acceptable timeframe".

The SDLP, which intends to enter official opposition at the Assembly, is understood to be having a separate meeting with the head of the civil service in Northern Ireland next week.

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