Government working intensely to get Stormont up and running – Sunak
The Government is “working intensely” behind the scenes to get the Stormont Assembly up and running, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said.
Mr Sunak said he had removed the biggest stumbling block to the return of the devolved institutions in Northern Ireland when he agreed the Windsor Framework with the EU.
However, Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill said patience has run out with the DUP’s blockade of the assembly and called on the UK and Irish governments to work together to see it restored.
The DUP has been blocking powersharing for more than a year in protest at the internal UK trade barriers created by Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol.
The party says the deal struck by the EU and UK to reform the protocol – the Windsor Framework – does not sufficiently address its concerns and has made clear it will not countenance a return to devolution until the Government provides further assurances, by way of legislation, over Northern Ireland’s place within the UK internal market.
Talks between the DUP and Government have been ongoing over the summer.
With regard to getting Stormont up and running, we are intensely working behind the scenes, as you would expect
In an interview with UTV, Mr Sunak said that the protocol was the biggest stumbling block to having a functioning executive at Stormont.
He said: “So I set out to try to resolve those issues. That’s what the Windsor Framework was about. I’m pleased we could do that.
“And now we want to keep working with stakeholders to see where we can continue to make improvements to make sure it’s implemented.”
He added: “With regard to getting Stormont up and running, we are intensely working behind the scenes, as you would expect.
“Behind the scenes we’re having intensive dialogue with all the parties because I want to see that government up and running because that’s what people of Northern Ireland need and deserve.”
Asked if he would consider changes to the framework to bring the DUP back into government, Mr Sunak said the agreement could be implemented in a flexible way.
He said: “So the Windsor Framework is the Windsor Framework, but where we can work with stakeholders in its implementation to do it in a way that is better or more flexible, of course we’ll be open to doing that, and that is happening.
“But the fundamentals of it are what they are, and they resolve the practical issues that were raised with me on things like… on parcels, on medicines, about tax policy, on key things applying in Northern Ireland.
“The overall framework that we’ve negotiated with the EU is set and as I said, it’s a huge improvement on the protocol and that practically resolves issues like parcels, like medicines and making sure that tax policy applies equally.
“Again, we having a good dialogue across parties to make sure that we can work with them.
“I want to support that process and I want to support them finding a way to get government up and running. And that’s what the people of Northern Ireland need and deserve.
“I think public services need that attention. They’re only going to get it if the Stormont executive is up and running.”
However, Ms O’Neill told the media in Belfast that the two governments needed to be more active in finding a solution to the powersharing logjam.
She said: “What we need to see, and what we should have heard from the Prime Minister today, is the action, the plan that he has to work with the Irish Government to end the DUP’s blockage of the assembly.
“That is where the public want us to be, working together and having their back through the cost-of-living crisis.
“Everyone has been more than reasonable giving time and space to the DUP, but that patience has run out.
“We are at the end of that road and what we need to see is the action plan to get us back into the executive.
“The real question now for the DUP is are they prepared to accept the outcome of last May’s assembly election?
“Are they prepared to accept shared power on an equal basis with ourselves and with the other parties?”
Some elements of the Windsor Framework will come into effect from this weekend.
Ms O’Neill said this meant there was no reason for the DUP boycott of Stormont to continue.
She said: “The Windsor Framework is now done, that deal has closed, that is not up for renegotiation.
“We have the Windsor Framework now coming into effect, the red lanes and green lanes now coming into effect over the next number of days, so there is no reason for the DUP to boycott the executive.”
I do think the two governments need to bring forward a plan in the first instance to have a restored executive
She added: “Our priority should always be plan A which is to get the Executive up and running, but if that is not the case of course it is prudent for the two governments to work together and actually find a way.
“But, what does that look like? What does that joint stewardship look like? They need to be having those conversations.
“I do think the two governments need to bring forward a plan in the first instance to have a restored executive and how they are going to stop the DUP preventing the formation of an executive.”
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