Belfast Telegraph

'Nonsense'... DUP scoffs at report £1bn is dependent on Executive's restoration

By Mark Edwards

The DUP has denied claims that money from its £1bn deal with the Conservatives will not be released until Stormont is back up and running.

The party agreed the extra public spending for Northern Ireland in June in exchange for supporting the minority Tory Government.

However, according to the BBC, a Stormont civil servant claimed "not a penny" of the money will be released until the DUP and Sinn Fein agree a return to power-sharing.

The DUP has said the money does not depend on Stormont being restored.

A DUP spokesman said: "The DUP secured extra funding for Northern Ireland following the agreement with the Conservative Party at Westminster.

"Our priority is to ensure money is spent on our hospitals and mental health services; this includes our desire to see a functioning Executive with a Health Minister in place to deal with pertinent issues facing the department.

"Downing Street has previously confirmed that the confidence and supply arrangement recognises the need for investment in Northern Ireland, even it if proves impossible for an Executive to be formed.

"We want to see those funds benefiting the people of Northern Ireland as soon as possible."

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, who signed the deal with the Tories, called the BBC's claims "nonsense".

He said: "Do the BBC seriously believe the DUP would have signed up to an agreement to secure an additional £1bn for Northern Ireland and made it conditional upon the Executive being formed?

"We are very clear in our agreement with the Government the agreement will only stand if the money is being delivered, regardless of whether there is a functioning Executive.

"The BBC would do well to come and talk to people like myself rather than anonymous civil servants to find out what is going on."

Downing Street and the Treasury have not responded to requests for comment on the claims.

In July the Treasury told the Belfast Telegraph the money was available for the power-sharing Executive to spend on key priorities and that it would not "sign off on projects".

The deal includes £250m of additional funding for the health service and £50m for education, with other funding set aside for infrastructure projects.

When the Conservative-DUP deal was signed in June, DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said the extra cash was not dependent on the power-sharing Executive returning.

Last month East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson accused Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire of "abdicating his responsibilities" by not releasing the money.

According to the BBC, the UK Treasury strongly opposed the deal from the outset and there is a power struggle between Prime Minister Theresa May, who needs the support of the DUP to prop up her administration, and Chancellor Philip Hammond.

However, the BBC source acknowledged that while there may be "push-back" among some Treasury officials, the reality of the 'confidence and supply' arrangement will mean that the extra resources will still be delivered even if Stormont talks fail.

Senior Conservatives involved in negotiations have previously said that if there is no Stormont deal, direct rule ministers will spend the money negotiated by the DUP.

It is understood DUP politicians have been in regular contact with Conservative ministers and that further high-level meetings are planned for next week.

In a written statement to Parliament ahead of the summer break, Mr Brokenshire also said it would be up to an Executive to agree how it wanted to spend the money. Stormont has been suspended since the snap election in March. It is understood there has been a "definite shift" in relations between the DUP and Sinn Fein in finding agreement this week.

The BBC said: "Deputy leader of the DUP, Nigel Dodds MP, was invited to respond to the story and was later interviewed on air by Mark Devenport. The BBC News NI Online story featured a response from an official DUP spokesperson."

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