Tánaiste hails ‘significant’ talk around extra Stormont money

Rebecca Black, PA

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin has hailed as “significant” talk of the additional funding that will be needed for Stormont.

The Northern Ireland Assembly has been effectively collapsed for more than a year amid DUP protest action over the Brexit Protocol.

The Stormont parties have said they will need at least £1 billion (€1.1 billion) of extra funding from the British government to manage budget pressures in a future sxecutive.

Britain's Northern Ireland secretary Chris Heaton-Harris responded saying any treasury package to accompany the return of Stormont devolution would be dependent on the local parties agreeing a “proper” plan for government.

Speaking in Cavan on Friday, Mr Martin described the talk as “significant”.

While he said any potential timeline for the return of devolution in Northern Ireland is unclear, he said it is interesting that parties are talking about it.

“I never want to pre-empt what others may do,” he said during a visit to St Clare’s National School in Ballyjamesduff.

“I’ve always been consistent in the view that it’s obviously in the best interests of the people of Northern Ireland that the mandate they gave their political representatives would be fulfilled and the Assembly would be restored,” he said.

“I have engaged with all the political parties in Northern Ireland on this. I had a more substantive meeting over the last fortnight with Chris Heaton-Harris.

“The exact timeline for this is not at all clear, and I think other parties are still deliberating on issues. I think it is significant and it is interesting that people are discussing funding issues and the financial frameworks that will govern the role of the Executive and the Assembly over the next number of years.”

Asked if he believes it is moving in the right direction, the Tánaiste said: “I think it is early days in terms of coming to that conclusion. Various timelines have been offered, there has been a lot of speculation. I hope to meet the northern parties over the next number of weeks also. We’ll be in a further position to assess it then.”

Sinn Féin MLA Conor Murphy criticised Mr Heaton-Harris claiming he had an obligation to call an election in the absence of a functioning Assembly, but instead “kicked it way down the road”.

He said he and his party’s vice president Michelle O’Neill pressed Mr Heaton-Harris for urgency of restoring Stormont when they met him on Wednesday.

“The electorate have spoken twice in the course of a year, a clear strong view right across the electorate that they want to see the Executive and the Assembly up and working again,” he told BBC Radio Ulster’s Good Morning Ulster.

“All we got were some vague assurances about he might be meeting with the DUP the week after next to discover what it is they may want in terms of some legislative cover.

“That to us doesn’t smack of any urgency.

“Services are suffering every single day as we wait for the Secretary of State and the DUP to continue this dance which is leaving the rest of us all in limbo.”