Belfast Telegraph

DUP say £1bn for Northern Ireland safe, as vote beckons in Parliament

By Suzanne Breen

Parliament will approve the £1bn extra funding the DUP secured for Northern Ireland - and the package isn't under threat, senior party figures have insisted.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson last night moved to quash speculation that a vote in Parliament on the deal might be defeated, with disgruntled Scottish Tories refusing to support it.

He was speaking as Sinn Fein Northern Ireland leader Michelle O'Neill said that while there was still "a mountain to climb" at talks to save power-sharing at Stormont, she believed an agreement could be reached.

DUP sources yesterday said the financial package for Northern Ireland that they secured in their confidence and supply deal to keep Theresa May's Conservatives in power was safe.

They insisted that however uncomfortable Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson and her colleagues might be about the deal, they still wouldn't oppose it in Parliament. "They know that if they vote against it, they are voting for the collapse of the government, for a general election and for Jeremy Corbyn becoming Prime Minister," a DUP insider told the Belfast Telegraph last night. "There is no incentive for them to do that."

Sir Jeffrey dismissed suggestions that the package was at risk as baseless.

The Lagan Valley MP said he expected movement on the first tranche of funding to begin next month.

Reports that the money could be in jeopardy surfaced yesterday as it was revealed that the additional funding for Northern Ireland would require a vote in Parliament.

The acknowledgement came in legal correspondence between Downing Street, businesswoman Gina Miller and the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain, who have been seeking to challenge the DUP deal in court.

In a letter, the Government said the package would require parliamentary approval and that no timetable had been set for a vote on the issue.

Ms Miller, who previously took a successful legal challenge to ensure that parliamentary approval was required to start the Brexit process, opposes the funding as improper and discriminatory.

She said: "It beggars belief that, neither at the time the Government sealed its dubious deal with the DUP in exchange for their votes in the Commons, nor at any point since, has the Government made it clear that the £1bn of taxpayers' money for Northern Ireland could only be handed over following Parliamentary approval.

"We all need to know when the Government intended to come clean to Parliament, its parliamentary party, and the public. When was parliamentary time going to be found to authorise this payment?

"And did the DUP know the cheque the government promised to pay might bounce?"

Ms Miller said it was clearly "not a done deal" and she raised the possibility of Scottish Tories - who are unhappy with the DUP's socially conservative views - opposing it in the House of Commons.

But Sir Jeffrey firmly rejected that suggestion.

"The political reality is that our agreement is with the Conservative Party as a whole," he said.

"Just as all our MPs are bound by that agreement, so are all theirs.

"I am confident that any additional financial allocation for Northern Ireland that arises from that agreement will be approved by the House of Commons. This is a non-story. It was always the case that additional expenditure of this nature would go before Parliament."

Sir Jeffrey said he expected the first tranche of funding to be part of budget proposals that Secretary of State James Brokenshire is expected to bring forward to Parliament next month should a deal not be reached on restoring devolution at Stormont.

A Downing Street spokesman said: "All UK Government spending requires parliamentary authorisation - generally via the Estimates and Supplementary Estimates process. Our focus in Northern Ireland is on restoring powersharing."

Meanwhile, Michelle O'Neill said that action, and not just "nice words", was needed to save power-sharing.

Speaking after a series of bilateral talks, she said: "I made it clear in meetings with the other parties that for a sustainable and inclusive Executive to work it must be on the basis of the Good Friday Agreement. 

"That requires Executive policies based on equality and respect and an end to the denial of rights, such as language rights, marriage rights and the right to a coroner's inquest.

"We still have a mountain to climb but I believe a deal can be done. There is a small window to get the job done and it will require a concerted effort by all the parties and the two governments."

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