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DUP urged to return to Stormont Executive ‘today’ by Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill


Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill

Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill

Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill

The DUP has been urged by Michelle O’Neill to re-nominate a First Minister “today” in order to restore the Executive at Stormont.

The former Sinn Fein deputy First Minister said the restoration of the full power sharing arrangements were needed in order to deal with the ongoing cost of living crisis and required politicians to agree a budget.

Party leaders at Stormont are due to meet later on Thursday, with Stormont legal advisors reported to have advised ministers a budget cannot be agreed without an Executive.

Speaking to the BBC’s Good Morning Ulster, Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie suggested the DUP could re-nominate a First Minister “even in a limited capacity” so a budget could be agreed.

"I would plead with Sir Jeffrey even in a limited capacity to re-nominate so we can have a budget and then if he so wishes collapse it again,” Mr Beattie said.

"We never thought collapsing the Executive was the right thing to do in the first place.

"It is my understanding that without an Executive we cannot pass this budget. We have a meeting today at 12 with the party leaders. If we can do something then we have to do it. I think the five of us have to knock our heads together and get something.”

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The DUP’s Edwin Poots argued money could be handed out on the basis of last year's budget.

He told the BBC: "Conor Murphy's budget can't be passed so you go back to last year's budget and spending could be based upon last year's budget and the departments be awarded funding.

"I know [Sinn Fein] are trying to create a storm about this. There is quite a considerable amount of money left in this year’s budget that hasn’t been spent.”

Meanwhile, the SDLP leader Colum Eastwood suggested his party were exploring whether emergency legislation in the form of a Private Members Bill could unlock the budget logjam.

He said he was “genuinely worried” about what people in Northern Ireland are going through amid a cost of living crisis.

"What we are hearing is we need political will from all parties to come together and solve this crisis,” he told the Nolan Show.

"We are told it is not possible to spend that money without an Executive under the current situation. I am genuinely really concerned for what people are going through. I just think all of us need to put our shoulders to the wheel to work together.” 

Sinn Fein Finance Minister Conor Murphy has insisted a budget cannot be struck without an Executive in place, meaning an additional £300 million allocated to the administration for the coming financial year cannot be accessed.

The Executive imploded last month when DUP First Minister Paul Givan resigned in protest at Brexit's Northern Ireland Protocol. The move automatically removed Ms O'Neill from her post as deputy First Minister.

Other ministers remain in post in shadow format but the wider administration cannot meet or take significant decisions.

"What the public need is restoration of the Executive with its full spending & decision-making powers," Ms O'Neill tweeted on Thursday morning.

"The DUP should nominate an FM so we can hold an extraordinary Executive; agree a budget & allocate the £300 million available to struggling families - I'm ready to do that today."

However, last week DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said he will “not take no as an answer” from Sinn Fein over the Stormont budget, claiming he does not accept it is derailed by the lack of an Executive.

Mr Donaldson said he wants to see a fully functioning Executive at Stormont, but claimed this is not realistic with restrictions placed on the region by the Brexit Protocol.

Mr Eastwood said his party are working with “legal clerks” in Stormont and Westminster to consider whether emergency legislation could allow the budget to be advanced.

“We in [SDLP] are working with legal clerks in Stormont & Westminster exploring if emergency legislation can unlock the £300million sitting in Stormont waiting to be spent,” he tweeted.

"Rising bills are hitting people, so we desperately need to get this money into people's pockets now.

"At today’s Party Leader’s meeting, [SDLP] will propose that parties unite with us to explore emergency legislation and if needed have Stormont sit extra days.

"If legal advice is stopping the Finance Minister from spending this money, then we need to find another way, fast.”

The meeting between Executive party leaders - Mr Donaldson, Ms O'Neill, Doug Beattie, Naomi Long and Colum Eastwood - is also set to discuss how Northern Ireland can assist refugees fleeing from war in Ukraine and growing fuel costs.

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