A senior Sinn Fein minister has defended the party’s use of “non-elected” republicans to help manage crisis situations.
Stormont Finance Minister Conor Murphy was pressed on his party’s decision-making structures as he gave evidence to his Assembly scrutiny committee.
DUP committee member Paul Frew highlighted evidence heard during the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) inquiry that indicated former finance minister Mairtin O Muilleoir sought the approval of senior republican figures ahead of making key decisions.
Sinn Fein’s internal processes have emerged as a prominent issue in the General Election campaign in the Irish Republic, with Fine Gael and Fianna Fail both citing the “shadowy” arrangements as reason not to enter a coalition government with the party.
Mr Frew asked Mr Murphy would he be “acting under instruction” as his predecessor appeared to be.
“The RHI inquiry brought to light emails and text messages showing the past finance minister in constant contact with veteran republicans outside of this elected assembly,” he said.
“Padraic Wilson, Martin Lynch and Ted Howell are names that are in the public domain. What do those names mean to you minister?”
Mr Murphy said the RHI episode was a “crisis” and in crisis situations all parties pull in a range of party figures to help co-ordinate the response.
“That involves people who manage,” he said. “Now some people may draft in other people who are elected representatives, most parties have chief executives, they have people on their executive committees who aren’t elected representatives and you involve people who can manage negotiations as we have managed negotiations since the early 1990s.”
He added: “A party management team manages in the middle of a crisis and all of the individual members of that team try to co-ordinate their activities.
“That’s how we do business and if there was a crisis here tomorrow morning I don’t doubt we would draft in a team to try to manage our response to it, which would involve a range of people including elected and non-elected representatives.”
During his appearance before the committee Mr Murphy revealed that the Assembly budget would be struck before the Chancellor announced his budget on March 11.
He said any additional money flowing to Northern Ireland as a result of Sajid Javid’s budget would then be factored into Stormont’s spending plans.
The Finance Minister also reiterated his claim that the UK Government had failed to honour undertakings to finance the New Decade, New Approach powersharing deal.
He said only £760 million of the £2 billion package announced by the Government was new money.
He said £1 billion was already pledged to the region as part of UK-wide spending commitments and £240 million was previously contained in the 2017 confidence and supply deal between the Conservatives and DUP.
Mr Murphy said the £760 million, which will be spread over five years, was well below what had been discussed during the negotiations ahead of the deal being published.
“Those commitments that were given in that document weren’t a Santa Claus wish list,” he said.
“They were carefully worked out through a series of discussions between all of the parties, senior officials from the department of finance, the head of the civil service here (David Sterling) and senior officials from the Northern Ireland Office.”
Mr Murphy said his officials were continuing to engage with Treasury officials with the aim of securing more funds.
The minister expressed frustration that the executive had to hand back £150 million to the Treasury ahead of the next financial year at the same time as they were asked for more funding.
But he pointed out that the £150 million of unused Financial Transactions Capital could not have been diverted to the powersharing deal.
He said the FTC money could only be accessed in very specific circumstances – namely in the form of a loan to, or equity investment in, a capital project delivered by a private sector organisation.
Mr Sterling, who appeared before the Executive Office Committee on Wednesday, was asked whether he expected the Government to provide more money.
“You will know the Finance Minister had meetings in London last week, I think he was quite positive about how they went,” he told the committee.
“It’s a matter of record that the Department of Finance is doing further work to identify the cost of the various commitments, the challenges that are facing us and to go back to Treasury with a strong case for additional resources. I wouldn’t want to make a judgment on the likelihood of that leading to significantly more money but I hope it will.”
At the finance committee, TUV leader Jim Allister claimed a revised code for special advisers had “watered down” the appointment process by removing an obligation on ministers to canvas a pool of candidates and outline the reasoning for their choice.
“Do you think that’s meeting the expectations of the public in terms of transparency?” he said.
Mr Murphy said the priority was strengthening the code in respect of how special advisers operated when in post, not how they are appointed.
“The question is are we more concerned with how they get there or what they do when they are there,” said the minister.