Northern Ireland party leaders dismiss revenue raising measures suggested by Secretary of State

PA - Jeffrey Donaldson and Emma Little Pengelly.
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson with Emma Little Pengelly. Credit: UTV

The Northern Ireland parties have dismissed revenue raising proposals put forward during their latest meeting to discuss plans for any future Executive.

They have all said the suggestions including increasing the price of school meals and transport have come from the Secretary of State and they do not support them.

Sinn Féin described the measures as “punitive and sinister” saying they were designed to put pressure on the DUP and create anxiety among the public.

They were speaking following another meeting with the Head of the Civil Service Jayne Brady.

Chris Heaton-Harris said he was working to make Northern Ireland finances "sustainable".

The DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has also said there is "meaningful" engagement with the government on what his party wants to resolve issues with the Windsor Framework.

Sir Jeffrey said: "progress is being made... but there is still some way to travel in these discussions".

He said the Barnett formula, which largely decides Stormont’s budget allocations from the UK Treasury, needs to be readjusted to provide more funding.

“In terms of the matters you raised about the Secretary of State’s request for additional fiscal measures in Northern Ireland, let’s be clear, that came from the Secretary of State, not from the Northern Ireland parties,” he said.

“We have no part in that. We have made clear to the Secretary of State that he should leave these things to an incoming Executive.

“We will of course, look at our ability to fund our public services in Northern Ireland, but as we’ve been saying consistently, the problem is not the need to find new fiscal measures to punish and tax the people of Northern Ireland.

“The need is for the government to restore our funding formula to meet the needs of the people of Northern Ireland. It isn’t meeting that need.”

The DUP leader also said Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s remarks "alternatives" if Stormont is not brought back in the autumn, were “unhelpful”.

During his visit to Belfast last week Mr Varadkar said if power sharing is not restored: “At that point we have to start having conversations about alternatives, about plan B.”

Outside Stormont castle on Thursday, Sir Jeffrey said: “I think the Taoiseach’s intervention was unhelpful. We’re not planning for failure. We want to get this right. And we’ll continue in our engagement with the government to do so,

“Frankly, these are matters for the government of the United Kingdom. They are matters for the internal affairs of the United Kingdom, and therefore when the Irish government talk about the need to to prepare for a Plan B, I think they should focus on getting plan A sorted out instead of talking about failure.”

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein MLA Deirdre Hargey has described new proposals to raise revenue in Northern Ireland as a “punitive and sinister” approach by the UK Government.

Ms Hargey was part of a delegation of Stormont politicians who met with the head of the NI Civil Service Jayne Brady, at which pressure on public finances was discussed.

The parties were presented with a briefing paper, compiled by civil servants, which included a range of proposed revenue raising measures.

She said: “This is a punitive and sinister approach by the British Secretary of State to create anxiety within the public and the put pressure on the DUP.

“Part of the discussion that we did have around our finances is looking at a fiscal floor that is in Wales for example, that was negotiated previously. Some of the evidence that we had presented to us this morning is that we are way below the fiscal floor, if there was one introduced here in terms of public financing.

“When you measure that against the need, we have a higher need, yet we are getting a lower sum of money, these are part of the things that we need to correct.”

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long said Northern Ireland is in an "unprecedented position" in terms of its public finances.

She said: "We cannot cut our way out of this crisis, nor can we reform our way out of this crisis.

"Asking the public to pay more for less when it comes to public services is not a solution."

UUP MLA Mike Nesbitt added: "Those revenue-raising proposals belong to the Secretary of State, not to any of the parties.

"I have seen a list of 40-plus revenue-raising areas, I would like to see the detail behind them."

Secretary of State Chris Heaton Harris in a statement added: "Northern Ireland’s finances are not on a sustainable trajectory, for NI to balance the books and have a prosperous future that requires fiscal responsibility with public spending.“The UK Government has given £7billion in additional funding to NI since 2014 on top of the Barnett-based block grant and we stand ready to continue supporting a restored Executive. That’s why we are looking at improvements to NI’s finances, including revenue raising measures.“We need the NI Executive back in place to progress much needed and long promised public spending and improve services for people."

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know.