The North is set to be hit with devastating cuts to public services by the British government as a result of the DUP’s block on powersharing.
British Direct Ruler Chris Heaton-Harris (pictured), who has responsibility for setting the Stormont budget when the institutions are not functioning, is expected to outline allocations of funds for the forthcoming financial year in a written ministerial statement at Westminster later today [Thursday].
Civil servants running public services in the absence of devolved elected ministers are preparing for potentially brutal cuts, according to reports.
Devolution is in a state of collapse at Stormont as a result of a DUP vetoing the institutions in protest at post-Brexit trading arrangements.
When local ministers left office last year, Stormont was facing an approximate £600 million deficit. Mr Heaton-Harris is due to meet the main parties at Hillsborough Castle to outline the current budgetary picture.
Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O’Neill has called on the London government to provide more money to sustain economic activity in the Six Counties.
“I just think it’s not good enough that we don’t have the executive up and running right now, we need to be there,” she said.
“And all the political parties need to be facing one direction and that is a direction pushing back against the Tory savagery.
“The cuts that they have brought forward have been eye-watering and really impacting on our communities and the people that live here.
“But alongside a reformed executive, which I am determined and what I want to achieve, what we need is additional finances, because we’ve just dealt with 12-plus years of Tory austerity, they’ve decimated public services, our public sector workers are on strike today, they shouldn’t have to be there.
“But this is the reality of the Tory austerity that they have brought upon us. But we need to fight back against it. And we need to fight for additional funding for a reformed executive that allows us to actually make better political choices in the best interests of the people that we serve.”
Politicians on all sides have expressed concern that a shortfall of cash could cause the North’s ‘economy’ to collapse while ratcheting up social problems.
The DUP has joined in the calls for increased funding from London.
“The primary problem is not a lack of Stormont, it is a lack of money,” said DUP MP Gavin Robinson. He warned that cash from London “is going down rather than rising.”
Last week, an appeal by the British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak for the DUP to restore powersharing fell on deaf ears, while promises of international investment were shrugged off by the party.
During a speech at Queen’s University in Belfast, Mr Sunak said devolution is the “right thing to do” for the future of the Union with Britain.
“I’m a proud unionist,” he told delegates at a peace conference. “We passionately believe that Northern Ireland is stronger within the United Kingdom, and the United Kingdom is stronger with Northern Ireland within it.
“But we must also build support beyond those of us who already identify as unionists. To do that, we have to show that devolved government within the United Kingdom works for Northern Ireland.
“The fact that the institutions have been down for nine of the last 25 years should be a source of profound concern.
“Over the long term that will not bolster the cause of unionism – I believe that deeply. So, we need to get the institutions up and running – and keep them up and running.”
DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson responded later saying the “damaged foundations” of devolved government could not work without unionist support.
“We seek to re-establish the Northern Ireland Assembly by finishing the job of fully restoring Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom,” he said, referring to his party’s demands for a new renegotiation of Brexit.
“We are in the business of finishing the job and ensuring that NI’s position within the Union is not continually undermined. Northern Ireland will only ever move forward if we all move forward together.”