POLITICS
20/02/2018 18:13 GMT | Updated 21/02/2018 14:54 GMT

Northern Ireland: UK Government Drawing Up Emergency Stormont Budget

Karen Bradley faces down Brexiteer critics of Good Friday Agreement, but says she has 'no choice'.

Bradley
Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley in the House of Commons

The Government remains “steadfastly” committed to the Good Friday Agreement, Karen Bradley has said, despite Brexiteer claims power-sharing in Northern Ireland is “unsustainable”. 

The Northern Ireland Secretary told MPs the Government will “provide budget clarity” for civil servants in Belfast but declined to impose direct rule. 

Stormont has now been without a devolved Government for 13 months after talks between Sinn Fein and the Arlene Foster’s party to restore power-sharing broke down again last week.

Bradley has come under pressure from the DUP to appoint ministers to take decisions on schools and hospitals and pass a budget before they run out of cash.

But Sinn Fein strongly opposes the return of direct rule and has called for an intergovernmental council involving the Irish Government.

Bradley said ministers remained “absolutely steadfastly” committed to power-sharing in Northern Ireland, and added: “I intend to take steps to provide clarity on the budget and will update the House (of Commons) as soon as possible.

“This is clearly not where I want to be but in the absence of an Executive I have no other choice.”

Senior Democratic Unionist Nigel Dodds said it was a “dereliction of duty” to continue without a spending plan or ministers to make decisions.

Bradley said she was working to ensure budget certainty for civil servants and she would return to the House of Commons.

Fresh Stormont elections were also an option, said Bradley. 

“Things in Northern Ireland cannot simply remain in a state of limbo,” she said. “Challenging decisions will have to be taken.”

Prominent Brexit backers have called for a “cold, rational look” at the historic Belfast agreement, which in 1998 ended decades of turmoil in the region, but they were accused of “recklessness” and furthering the cause of hard Brexit by Remainers. 

Irish Deputy PM also called their interventions “irresponsible and reckless”. 

Asked whether a mediator could be appointed to get talks between the DUP and Sinn Fein, the Secretary of State said she would not rule it out. 

Following her statement in the Commons, Bradley also faced calls to hold a free vote at Westminster on extending equal marriage to Northern Ireland.  

Labour MP Ged Killen urged Bradley to “get off the fence” and use UK powers to legislation for same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland. 

“We simply would not tolerate this discrimination against any other group of UK citizens,” he said. 

Bradley said same sex marriage legislation was a devolved matter, adding “it is for the people of Northern Ireland and their politicians to make this decision”. 

Former Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson, Tory MEP Dan Hannan and Labour MP - three hardline Brexiteers - have all gone on record questioning whether the Good Friday Agreement would stand this week. 

Paterson tweeted an article saying the GFA had “outlived its usefulness”. 

Hoey told HuffPost: “I think there is a need for a cold rational look at the Belfast agreement.

“Even if a settlement had been agreed a few days ago there is nothing to stop Sinn Fein or the DUP finding something else to walk out about in a few months. Mandatory coalition is not sustainable in the long term.” 

Writing in the Daily Telegraph,  Hannan, said the stalling talks were proof the GFA had “failed”.

He said: “Northern Ireland has had no government for 13 months. Direct rule seems inevitable – and that is no bad thing.” 

Dublin has said it wants to protect the Good Friday Agreement and the British Government has echoed that stance and said it believes in devolution.

Prime Minister Theresa May is due to meet the leaders of the DUP and Sinn Fein at the House of Commons on Wednesday afternoon, Downing Street said.

May’s official spokesman said: “The focus is on restoring devolved government to Northern Ireland.”

Asked about suggestions by Tory backbencher Owen Paterson that the Good Friday Agreement may have “outlived its usefulness”, the spokesman said: “The Government remains absolutely steadfastly committed to the Belfast Agreement and is currently working with partners in order to get the devolved administration up and running as soon as possible.

“That’s what the Prime Minister is going to be talking about when she meets with the DUP and Sinn Fein tomorrow.”