Belfast Telegraph

Devolution in new phase of uncertainty as Budget brought forward at Westminster

A Budget has been brought forward at Westminster in the absence of a powersharing agreement in Northern Ireland, leaving the future of devolution in a new phase of uncertainty.

Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire moved the bill in the House of Commons, telling MPs he was "reluctant" to do it but that the region would soon run out of funds as the political impasse entered its 11th month.

Mr Brokenshire said: "This is a measure I have deferred for as long as possible."

He said: "Passing this Budget does not mean direct rule."

However shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Smith countered that many in Northern Ireland would not agree with that assessment, particularly those in the nationalist community.

During debate on the budget bill, Mr Brokenshire said that he has commissioned an independent review of whether MLAs' salaries could or should be stopped while Stormont does not sit.

Mr Brokenshire said the work would be undertaken by Trevor Reaney, a former clerk of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

"He will provide an independent assessment of the case for action and the steps he would consider to be appropriate and will report back to me by December 15."

At present, MLAs continue to receive their £49,950 salary despite the devolved administration not functioning properly since January.

Mr Brokenshire also disclosed plans for a £50m cash injection to be spent on education and health in Northern Ireland, which MPs will vote on in a separate debate.

DUP MP Nigel Dodds welcomed the money, telling the chamber that it was the first slice of the £1bn deal brokered between his party and the Conservatives in June in exchange for supporting Theresa May's minority government on a confidence and supply basis.

Earlier, Sinn Fein's northern leader Michelle O'Neill had said the current phase of talks between her party and the DUP were now over.

She called on the Irish and British governments to facilitate an urgent meeting in which they could discuss whether the two governments could implement "outstanding" issues in the absence of a powersharing deal at Stormont.

Powersharing collapsed in January when then Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness resigned in protest at how his counterparts in the DUP handled allegations of mismanaging a green energy scheme.

Since then, the DUP and Sinn Fein have engaged in multiple rounds of negotiations aimed at returning to government, all of which have failed to produce a deal.

The parties have said disagreements remain primarily around language and cultural issues, including whether to implement a standalone Irish language act.

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