Belfast Telegraph

Dodds calls for direct rule ministers to be appointed in weeks if deal isn’t agreed

By Suzanne Breen

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds has said London must appoint direct rule ministers to run Northern Ireland "within a few short weeks" if a deal isn't reached to restore devolution.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster's Inside Politics programme last night, Mr Dodds said the ministers could make decisions in conjunction with the Stormont parties.

The DUP and Sinn Fein have nine days to reach a deal before the Secretary of State passes a budget for Northern Ireland in the House of Commons.

James Brokenshire has insisted that this would not mean a return to direct rule.

But Mr Dodds said while he was "optimistic" that the two parties could reach an agreement, key decisions had to be taken on public services.

"I have made it very clear we can only go on in this semi-direct rule in certain areas, welfare and now the budget, for a very short period," he said.

"We need decisions to be taken by ministers and if those aren't going to be Northern Ireland Executive ministers, then I think within a few short weeks we need to move to an appointment of direct rule ministers.

"You can give civil servants the power to spend money, but there are a lot of decisions stacking up and you have to have ministers to make decisions."

Sinn Fein could abandon the talks process if London ministers are appointed but Mr Dodds maintained that there was no other choice.

"The alternative is that we end up with no ministers making any decisions until Sinn Fein come to their senses. So, what happens to public services in the meantime? We can't have the current limbo," he said.

The DUP MP also expressed his disgust at the "horrific" allegations of sexual assault and harassment at Westminster.

Asked by the BBC if his own party's record in the House of Commons was clear on the matter, he said: "I believe so". Meanwhile, Sinn Fein has warned that unless there is "a step change" by Arlene Foster's party and the two governments on the issues of rights, a deal to restore devolution is unlikely.

Upper Bann MLA John O'Dowd yesterday blamed the DUP for the deadlock as the two parties continued to squabble despite the clock ticking on the latest Stormont deadline.

He said: "Unless there is a step change on the part of the DUP and both governments on the issues of rights, it is very unlikely we are going to see any agreement in the next period of time which sees the institutions back in place.

"The issue of rights is not going to go away. The DUP know this. These rights must be satisfactorily dealt with."

The Sinn Fein MLA said his party was committed to restoring the institutions "on the principles of equality, respect and integrity" and this was "the only sustainable way government in the North can function".

He stated: "Threats to public services are a direct result of Tory austerity policies, policies now backed by the DUP as part of their reckless pact with the Tory government.

 "The DUP should focus their attentions on ending their denial of rights which citizens enjoy everywhere else on these islands, so we can get local ministers who are best placed to run local public services and prioritise our own political agenda back in place."

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann urged Mr Brokenshire to press ahead with a Northern Ireland budget regardless of the opposition from Sinn Fein.

Mr Swann said: "In recent days, Gerry Adams warned that Sinn Fein will consider this phase of the talks at an end if Westminster passes a budget bill for Northern Ireland.

"He has also warned direct rule would be a major breach of the Belfast Agreement, with 'international implications'. This is more nonsense from Gerry Adams.

"He should drop the ludicrous threats. It's all right for him with access to healthcare in the USA when he needs it, but the rest of us want to see our government ensure a budget is in place."

The UUP leader said Sinn Fein should "be thankful" that the British government provided £10bn annually to Northern Ireland.

"If the Secretary of State took Gerry Adams' advice and decided not to legislate at Westminster for a budget for Northern Ireland, just how does Gerry Adams think we will pay for public services, public sector wages or benefits? 

"He would be the first person leading the complaints that the British government was not fulfilling its obligations and was infringing the rights of local people if thousands of public sector workers were laid off because the local public sector had run out of money," Mr Swann said.

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