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'This is British direct rule' says SDLP leader, as Westminster passes North budget

The Northern Ireland Budget Bill passed through the House of Commons yesterday.

Stormont, Northern Ireland
Stormont, Northern Ireland
Image: RollingNews.ie

NORTHERN IRELAND HAS made a significant move towards handing political power back to Westminister as the Secretary of State James Brokenshire has published a budget for the region.

The budget has been released as a result of the continuous failure of political parties in Northern Ireland, including Sinn Féin and the DUP, to form an executive.

The DUP and Sinn Féin have so far missed four different deadlines this year to form a Stormont Assembly.

The power-sharing assembly has been vacant since January after a bitter row between Sinn Féin and the DUP over the “cash-for-ash” scandal.

Brokenshire said that public services would begin to run out of money if a budget was not put in place by the end of November.

The Northern Ireland Budget Bill passed through the House of Commons yesterday, backed by all parties without a vote. The bill will go before the House of Lords later today.

The budget for 2017/18 shows an increase in health spending of 5.4%.

It will also see overall public spending for the North rise by 3.2%, meaning no real increase when inflation is considered.

The education budget is up by 1.5% compared to last year, the agriculture and environment budget is down by 3% and the justice budget is down by 0.4%.

Brokenshire’s budget does not include the £1.2 billion special package that the DUP settled with Prime Minister Theresa May as a part of the deal to keep the Conservative Party in power in Westminister.

He told MPs that the first of £50 million from the deal will be released this financial year.

British Irish Council summit Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire Source: Stefan Rousseau via PA Images

Brokenshire said that he regretted having to impose a budget on Northern Ireland, but expressed hope that an executive could be formed.

Speaking at the House of Commons, Brokenshire said that the passing of the budget “should not be a barrier to negotiations to continue, but the ongoing lack of agreement has had tangible consequences for people and public services in Northern Ireland”.

This is a step that I do not intend to take while there is an opportunity for an executive to be formed.

The passing of the Westminster bill will essentially give Northern Ireland’s Civil Service the legal authority to spend money as per its existing plans.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds has welcomed the budget move and said that it is the “right thing” to do in the absence of a restoration deal.

However, Sinn Féin’s Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill said that the UK government had been “complicit in this, backing the DUP’s refusal to honour the commitments previously made and blacking the delivery of equality”.

The Secretary of State has previously stated that the budget bill would only cover the 2017-2018 period and “does not mean a move to direct rule”.

This is contradicted by the SDLP as party leader Colum Eastwood said: “This is British direct rule, delivered by the DUP and Sinn Féin”.

Failure to form Stormont Assembly

In the months since the failure to form a Stormont executive, a deep division has been exposed between the parties on the Irish language in particular.

Sinn Féin’s leader in Northern Ireland Michelle O’Neill said earlier this month that the failure of the negotiations has come about as a result of the failure of the DUP to cede ground on “fundamental rights” such as marriage equality and language rights.

O’Neill said: “The British government’s acquiescence in this been compounded by the Tory-DUP pact.”

With reporting by Rónán Duffy. 

Read: Direct rule or not, Northern Ireland’s budget will be passed in Westminster

More: Ireland must wait for the North before banning the sale of cheap alcohol

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