Belfast Telegraph

DUP's Foster says budget will be set in weeks after meeting PM May in London

By Suzanne Breen

DUP leader Arlene Foster has said she believes that Westminster will set a budget for Northern Ireland "within weeks".

Mrs Foster was speaking after meeting Theresa May in London yesterday.

The Prime Minister also held discussions with a Sinn Fein delegation. Addressing the media afterwards, party president Mary Lou McDonald accused the Government of having no viable plan for restoring power-sharing at Stormont.

She said she feared "entrenchment and drift" in efforts to resurrect the Executive.

Mrs Foster said she had expressed concern about the lack of proper governance in Northern Ireland and had again urged the Prime Minister to introduce a budget for public services.

"I think she heard that very loud and clear.

"I'm hopeful that it will happen in weeks, and that it will set out the trajectory for public services in Northern Ireland," she added.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said that "we can't continue to have Northern Ireland left in limbo as it has been in the last 13 months".

While the goal was to restore devolution, he said a "commonsense interim position" with ministers taking decisions was needed in the meantime.

Mrs Foster denied reports that the DUP had been about to sign up to a deal with Sinn Fein that would have seen an Irish Language Act introduced. She claimed the leaked draft agreement on the talks published by journalist Eamonn Mallie was only one of a number circulated.

"We were not contemplating bringing in an Irish Language Act and I could not be clearer in relation to that. If you look at the so-called draft agreement, that is only one of a number of documents that were circulated and put out and about," she said.

"I think the important thing is that we now reflect on where we got to in relation to all of those issues.

"We have a budget put in place. I think that is important for the people of Northern Ireland and that we move forward."

Ms McDonald expressed Sinn Fein's disappointment after its discussions with Mrs May. "We can only surmise from the meeting with the British Prime Minister that the Government does not have a plan. There is not a viable plan for carving a path to the restoration of the institutions," Ms McDonald said.

"I fear drift, I fear entrenchment, I fear that those elements who were likely never really up for a deal will dig their heels in further and are further emboldened. We are at a moment of decision."

The Sinn Fein leader repeated her call for a meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference (BIIGC) "to ensure the full implementation of agreements and to protect and promote the rights of all citizens".

In a statement, Downing Street said Mrs May remained committed to restoring Stormont.

The Prime Minister would be "working closely with the Northern Ireland Secretary and will continue to engage with the parties and the Irish Government", Number 10 added. Speaking at Westminster, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said Northern Ireland must remain true to the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement and that if devolution couldn't be restored, then the BIIGC must be convened.

"That is the next step under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement," he said. "What cannot happen, and what we will not allow to happen, is majority rule by the DUP under the guise of British direct rule. That is not an option."

Belfast Telegraph

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