UK Government offers funding package to help Northern Ireland return to stable financial footing

The UK Government has offered a financial package to help Northern Ireland return to a stable financial footing and support the return of the Stormont Executive. The pledge from Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris came during talks with the region’s five main parties about Stormont’s economic woes.

It has been reported to be around £2.5billion.

UUP leader Doug Beattie said the proposed figure was "headline grabbing" and "eye-watering".

Although other party leaders felt the offer did not go far enough.

Michelle O'Neill said £2.5 billion did not "touch the surface of what is required" for properly funded public services.

Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill said there had been a recognition of the need for a substantive funding package but "the question was for the DUP" on if they were to return to power sharing".

"The scale of underfunding at Stormont for the past decade has stretched public services to breaking point," she said.

"I want to get around the Executive table and fight that fight together."

She said Wednesday was the cut off point for this week's talks process.

"This is not about parties, this is about the people we serve," she added.

Ms O'Neill refused to get into the "ins and outs of the detail," she said the offer on the table "needed a lot more work" and was "far short" of what was required.

The DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said they would study the details of the offer but said it "fell short of what was needed".

He added: "We want to get a good outcome for Northern Ireland. That means not just financial basis but also on political stability.

"That means on a basis unionists can support any arrangement."

He added: "The mandate we were given was clear and that was to restore Northern Ireland's place in the UK."

He said the financial situation should not be tied with resolving issues around the Northern Ireland protocol.

"We are not calendar led, we want to get this right. We want this resolved as soon as possible, but it has to be right."

He said there was a series of structures to the offer from the government but that more work was required.

"It is a starting point, there is more to do."

The DUP has been boycotting the power-sharing institutions over the government's deal with the EU which placed a border down the Irish Sea.

The DUP has been in negotiations with the Government to secure legislative assurances over Northern Ireland’s economic position in the UK.

Alliance leader Naomi Long also said the package on offer was not enough. She described the talks as a "useful conversation".

She said there was a "plus side" to the package on offer.

"However, in terms of the quantum, it is not sufficient to be able to address the issues.

"For us this is not about a short term fix, it is not about dangling baubles before Christmas and getting everybody to rush back and say this will be resolved immediately

"It isn't a barrier to restoration of devolution that we get an agreement on this... devolution can be restored from any point in time.

"From our prospective it is essential we get this right. The impact of any fiscal floor, the impact of any decisions taken, will have generational impact.

"And so we will not be bounced into a decision around what the financial package looks likes. The DUP have had 18 months to mull over the minutiae of the Windsor framework and the changes they want to it.

"This is much more important in terms Northern Ireland's long term sustainability. So we need to ensure as much detail and attention is paid to the detail of this deal and to the finances around this deal as has been paid to any other part of it."

She said political stability was also crucial to the outcome of this process.

UUP leader Doug Beattie said the package on offer was an opportunity to get an Executive up and running and allowed for pay deals for public sector workers.

Mr Beattie, in a press conference outside Hillsborough Castle, said the restoration of power sharing and the finances were "inextricably linked".

The package includes funding for public sector pay rises, but it is dependent on the return of the Stormont power-sharing institutions.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said that while they would be in opposition in a reformed Stormont, they wanted to be constructive.

He said key was restoring the institutions but it was clear "we are not there yet" and the first thing to happen was the DUP leader needed to make a decision.

"We've had enough not of waiting for Jeffrey to make a decision, he needs to lead, that was why he was elected."

The measures offered include:

  • Funding for public sector pay rises this year;

  • Reform of the funding model for Northern Ireland, including the setting of a new fiscal floor

  • A stabilising fund for the next four years to give the Executive access to additional funds

  • Giving the Executive power to spend money which currently comes from the UK Government for projects in Northern Ireland to be redirected for the transformation of public services

  • A two-year period to pay back a Stormont budget overspend would be extended to five years.

Stormont parties will also be urged to progress steps taken by Mr Heaton-Harris on new revenue-raising measures.

Earlier Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said Monday's all-party talks were focused on the financial stability of Northern Ireland.

The TUV leader Jim Allister said any money on offer would not derail principled unionists.

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