Belfast Telegraph

MPs urge NI Secretary to restart Stormont powersharing talks

The Government has been engaged in a period of “reflection” since the last bid to restore devolution failed earlier this year.

An influential committee of MPs has urged the Northern Ireland Secretary to restart powersharing talks.

The Government has been engaged in a period of “reflection” since the last bid to restore devolution failed earlier this year.

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at Westminster said in the meantime Karen Bradley should increase the tempo of ministerial decision making and urged her to bring forward proposals for progress before the summer recess.

Committee chairman Dr Andrew Murrison said: “Karen Bradley is right to make restoring powersharing devolved government in Stormont her first priority.

“However, while the political impasse continues the list of policy obstructions and project delays grows and becomes more serious.”

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald has said she feared “entrenchment and drift” after the latest round of endless talks aimed at restoring the institutions ended in gridlock last winter.

Civil servants have taken over day-to-day running of public services.

A Belfast High Court judgment earlier this month blocked an incinerator plan because a senior civil servant did not have the power to approve the planning application.

Dr Murrison added: “This month’s High Court judgment means inactivity in ministerial decision making, which to date has been perfectly understandable, is fast becoming untenable.”

Stormont is appealing against the judgment, seeking clarity of civil service powers, but that is likely to take months.

In the meantime, major decisions in areas like road building are stacking up.

Powersharing has been on hold since January last year after a row between coalition partners the DUP and Sinn Fein over a botched green energy scheme which has widened to include a range of identity issues like the place of the Irish language.

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee published its report – Devolution and Democracy in Northern Ireland: Dealing with the Deficit – on Tuesday.

The report urged the Government to implement the recommendations of the Historical Institutional Abuse inquiry into child abuse, which included paying compensation to victims.

The MPs said health service transformation as recommended in the Bengoa Report should proceed and suggested the reconstitution of the Policing Board which oversees the police service.

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said: “These are three areas which paint a stark picture of how a lack of decision making here can directly affect people’s lives and public services.

“The Government cannot continue to dither as they attempt to spare the blushes of some parties here.

“While local politicians should be the ones making decisions on behalf of local people, the UK Government has a responsibility to the people of Northern Ireland too.”

The report said committees of Stormont Assembly members should be formed in Northern Ireland while devolved Government remains on hold.

They would adhere to the principles of powersharing which were established after the 1998 Good Friday Agreement to ensure equal representation between nationalists and unionists and would reflect the make up of the elected Assembly.

MPs also urged a consultation with Assembly members to explore their role in some form of Assembly structure, beginning within a month and concluding before the summer.

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee said the Good Friday Agreement should not be exempt from review as the situation had changed.

“The key is consent. The whole community has to agree.”

It said if the Stormont Executive was restored, it should launch a consultation within six months on what changes could be made to strengthen the institutions.

If the Executive is not rebuilt, the Northern Ireland Secretary should consult with the parties in Northern Ireland and the Irish Government on how a review mechanism could be progressed and what the scope of that review should be, the Committee’s report added.

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