19 December 2023

Bank financial offer from UK Government now, Alliance leader urges parties

19 December 2023

Northern Ireland’s parties have been urged to “bank” an offered £3.3 billion financial package from the UK Government.

Alliance leader Naomi Long was speaking as multi-party talks with the Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris at Hillsborough Castle over Stormont finances finished on Tuesday.

Long-running separate talks between the DUP and the Government had been ongoing over unionist concerns around post-Brexit trading arrangements.

The DUP has been refusing to take part in devolved government until these concerns are addressed. They have indicated there will be no deal to restore the Stormont institutions this side of Christmas.

On Tuesday, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said talks with the Government over the Windsor Framework will continue, and that while his party will study the financial offer from Government, they do not believe there is yet a basis to deliver the financial stability that Northern Ireland needs.

He also urged that the Government should settle public sector pay disputes in Northern Ireland ahead of any return of the Stormont Executive.

However, other parties, including Sinn Fein, Alliance and the UUP, have said they were told by Mr Heaton-Harris on Tuesday that the Government’s talks with the DUP have concluded.

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald said there is a “window of opportunity” for the DUP and pressed for the unionist party to make a decision.

“The work is done, a decision has to be taken to recall the Assembly and to have the Executive up and running, and that cannot happen soon enough as far as we are concerned,” she added.

Ms Long said that while she does not believe the financial package offered by the Government is enough, she said it should be banked at this stage.

“I think we’re looking a gift horse in the mouth here by refusing to actually grasp that money and bank that money at this stage,” she told media at Hillsborough Castle.

The Alliance party leader said she believes there is an “expiry date” on the offer from the Secretary of State.

“So there has never been an excuse for collapsing the assembly, but now that those Windsor framework talks have concluded – that was the word the Secretary of State used –  now those have concluded, there is no longer any excuse for dragging this out and making it more protracted,” she said.

“I would say that at some point in the new year, maybe there’s a date on the table, it will have an expiry date attached.”

Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie added: “The headline to all of this is that negotiations on the Windsor Framework and the financial package have ended, but process is now where we find ourselves.

“The whole point of this is the substantive issues that have been raised by the DUP, and we haven’t been in the room, the Secretary of State is now saying he has answered all of those.

“The process is when you start bringing everybody else into this and tell us where you are.

“The negotiations on substantive issues, the Secretary of State was very clear, that is done.”

The SDLP did not take part in the talks on Tuesday as they intend to go into opposition when the Assembly and Executive are recalled.

In a statement, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood urged that a deal be closed to see devolution restored and “pay justice” for public sector workers.

“The talks have concluded. It is now time for parties tasked with forming a power sharing Executive to close out a deal,” he said.

“Less than a week before Christmas, people across the North are worried about their wages, they’re worried about family members still waiting for hospital treatment, and they’re worried about the collapse of public services that we all rely on.

“Those are the people that politicians should be relentlessly focused on – not the bogeymen who have been trying to tear down devolution for decades.

“This is a moment for calm leadership and for confident leaders to emerge and make the tough decisions needed to restore devolution.”

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