Belfast Telegraph

Direct rule looms as Tories confirm £1bn is not dependent on working Northern Ireland Executive

By Staff Reporter

A DUP MP says Northern Ireland could be heading for direct rule to fill the vacuum left by the absence of a functioning Stormont Executive.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson was speaking after the Conservative Party said the £1bn additional funding for Northern Ireland from the DUP-Tory Westminster agreement did not depend on the restoration of the devolved institutions.

Speaking to the BBC yesterday, Sir Jeffrey said: "We can't hang around forever.

"The pressures on our health service and education system are critical, and we believe that if an Executive is not formed in the summer the Secretary of State will need to act to allocate these monies."

Unless a functioning Executive is formed "we are heading for direct rule", he warned.

There has been a lack of clarity over the conditions attached to the £1bn deal, which will provide additional funding to Northern Ireland's health service, schools and roads.

Secretary of State James Brokenshire had suggested that the money may only be available should there be an Executive. However, the DUP has said that was not a condition of the deal it signed up to.

The Lagan Valley MP, who signed the deal between the two parties, said the £1bn additional funding would be spent regardless of whether an Executive was formed from the current Stormont talks process.

"Let me be crystal clear," the MP told the Talkback programme.

"If there is no Executive the money will be delivered, and it will be delivered from Westminster."

Sir Jeffrey said that the DUP-Tory agreement provided for a Westminster committee of MPs to be formed, which would advise on how the money would be spent.

And given that his party and independent unionist Lady Hermon were the only sitting representatives in the House of Commons for Northern Ireland due to Sinn Fein's abstentionist policy, they would "obviously have an influence" on how the £1bn was allocated. The £1bn is "sitting and waiting to be spent", according to Westminster officials.

Before his suggestion that the money may be delivered on the condition of the Executive's restoration, Mr Brokenshire had told the Commons that further steps would be taken to provide the "necessary political decision-making in the best interests of everyone in Northern Ireland".

"I reaffirm that the UK Government remains prepared to take forward legislation at Westminster to give authority for the expenditure of Northern Ireland departments should an Executive not be restored," Mr Brokenshire told MPs.

In a statement welcomed by Sir Jeffrey yesterday, the Conservative Party implied the restoration of devolved institutions was not a precondition for release of the £1bn funding.

"Both the Conservative Party and the DUP are committed to getting the Executive re-established, because we both believe that decisions about funding for different public services in Northern Ireland should be taken by politicians in Northern Ireland," a party spokesman said.

"We want the additional funding identified in this agreement to go to a new Executive.

"However, if despite our collective efforts it proves impossible to re-establish the Executive, the Conservative Party, in signing this agreement, has recognised the case for the higher funding Northern Ireland needs."

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