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UUP in call for unused cash to be redirected

By Noel McAdam

The Government should redirect funds to help unblock the welfare reform stalemate at Stormont, the Ulster Unionists have said.

Presenting a set of proposals as talks aimed at preventing the collapse of the Assembly got under way, UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said money earmarked for other projects had gone unspent.

The cash includes more than £20m meant for the Historical Inquiries Unit and the Independent Commission on Information Retrieval.

Mr Nesbitt said it could be redirected since Westminster had already conceded it should provide funding for issues considered a legacy of the Troubles.

"Currently, Martin McGuinness is demanding more money from London for the vulnerable, but his ask is for funds for welfare reform mitigations," said Mr Nesbitt.

"But additional funds could be made available elsewhere. The unaddressed legacy issue is mental health, with many victims among the most vulnerable in society.

"There is no reason why the UK Government should not offer additional funds for NI's mental health issues.

"Additionally, there is some £20m to £25m of legacy money for the HIU and ICIR that will be lost to the NI Executive this financial year, due to the impasse in implementation of the Stormont House Agreement."

The UUP leader argued the proposal could also be accepted by the Labour Party after shadow Secretary of State Ivan Lewis confirmed his view that mental health is an area where Northern Ireland should receive additional, ring-fenced funding, above and beyond the Barnett Formula.

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said any decision on suspending Stormont would be above Theresa Villiers' pay grade - but also quipped that the talks could go on "forever".

Mr Adams added Sinn Fein will not accept "any move by the Tory Government to undermine the Assembly, the Executive and devolution by imposing welfare cuts on the most vulnerable".

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