Belfast Telegraph

Pressure mounts on Northern Ireland parties to seize day, re-establish Executive and reap all benefits of windfall

By Noel McAdam

A powerful message has gone out to Northern Ireland's politicians in the aftermath of the DUP-Conservative £1 billion bonanza for Northern Ireland: Now bring back Stormont.

Arrangements have been put in place for an Assembly meeting to elect a new Executive this Thursday, but it will fail without a power-sharing deal.

Business leaders, professional groups, trade unions, voluntary sector and civic society leaders have urged the five main parties to reach an agreement that restores Stormont and means the money secured in London can be spent.

The Ulster Farmers Union, Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Confederation of British Industry and NI Council for Voluntary Action said the institutions were needed as soon as possible to tackle major challenges ahead.

In a joint statement, they warned: "Not only has our lack of government left huge financial uncertainty around the Northern Ireland budget, and major strategic decisions affecting all our lives parked or postponed, we have no government representation in the Brexit negotiations which will result in the most significant political, economic and social changes to our lives for a generation."

The four organisations added: "As a first step, it is essential there is agreement that the UK will preserve the economic benefits of the single market and the customs union until a final settlement between the United Kingdom and the European Union is agreed and implemented.

"This will avoid a damaging scenario which will have a potentially significant impact not just on trade but on thousands of jobs in the region." Construction Employers Federation managing director John Armstrong said: "It is now absolutely critical that a Northern Ireland Executive is formed by Thursday's deadline.

"Nearly half-a-year has now passed since the collapse of devolution and everyone within the business community is united behind the absolute need for this impasse to be resolved."

The British Medical Association NI said a rescue package to deal with the chronic shortage of GPs must be the priority for extra money for the health service.

But the additional £200m for both health and education over the next two years should not be used to clear waiting lists "in one swoop".

Instead, it should be employed to fund the radical recommendations of the Bengoa review, which would transform health service delivery.

BMA NI council chairman Dr John D Woods said: "It is now essential that this money is actually spent addressing the issues we face and not used as a quick fix solution that does nothing to address the long-term sustainability of healthcare in Northern Ireland.

"There are a number of priority areas that need tackled urgently; the crisis in general practice has been well documented and the BMA has made it clear that a rescue package is needed now.

"We also need to take steps now to address the growing shortage of doctors across Northern Ireland in order to meet population needs.

"Alongside this, we need to see this money being used in a strategic way, not merely to address waiting lists. The money needs to be used to support genuine system and service transformation, as set out in the Bengoa review.

"This includes developing effective systems for elective and urgent care."

And Action Mental Health, the biggest mental health charity in the province, said it wanted the additional £10m a year for five years to fund a mental health champion.

The organisation's chief executive David Babington said: "Action Mental Health would like to warmly welcome this announcement of significant extra funding for mental health services in Northern Ireland.

"For some time we have worked closely with all of the political parties in Northern Ireland to lobby for improvements in mental health service provision to recognise long-term under-investment, and the specific historical issues which exist here."

Kenny Donaldson, spokesman for Innocent Victims United, also welcomed the money for mental health "to deal with the legacy of terrorism and Troubles-related violence".

But he added: "We seek clarity on whether this is new monies above and beyond that which was previously committed to by the UK Government.

"Over the coming days and weeks we will be speaking to both the DUP and Conservatives, impressing upon those parties and others the need to do the right thing - not because it is politically expedient to do so, but because victims/survivors must finally see delivery upon their legitimate needs."

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