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Direct rule or not, Northern Ireland's budget will be passed in Westminster

It comes after the failure of the DUP and Sinn Féin to reach a deal.

Image: PA Wire/PA Images

Updated 2.31 pm

WESTMINSTER IS TO pass a budget for Northern Ireland in what is being described by the Irish government as a “step towards” direct rule.

The UK’s Secretary of State James Brokenshire made the announcement today as a result of the failure of political parties in Northern Ireland to form an executive.

The failure to agree a deal comes eight months after the last Assembly election and following intense negotiations between the two largest parties, the DUP and Sinn Féin.

Brokenshire said today that the failure of the two parties to re-enter into power-sharing has meant that the UK government must step in to avoid public services running out of money.

Brokenshire said this despite “important progress” between the parties:

It is responsibility of the parties to form an Executive to take forward its own Budget, but it is now very unlikely that an Executive will be in place within a timetable to pass a budget by the end of November, which is the point at which we and the Northern Ireland Civil Service assess that Northern Ireland will begin to run out of resources.

“No government could simply stand by and allow that to happen,” he added.

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.

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

This was contradicted by the SDLP with party leader Colum Eastwood saying, “a Northern Ireland budget passed in Westminster is direct rule”.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney told RTÉ’s News at One that the Irish government does not agree that the move represents direct rule, but that it is a move in that direction.

“We don’t accept that but I think what the SDLP says has has some truth to it,” Coveney said.

I mean this is certainly a step towards making significant decisions for Northern Ireland outside of Northern Ireland. And that is simply not a place we want to be.

“The problem here is the end of this month, we know that at the moment Northern Ireland is surviving essentially on emergency funding, and will run out of funding at the end of November.”

Powersharing talks Sinn Féin's negotiating team at Stormont. Source: Mark Marlow/PA Images

Before today, the parties have already missed three 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.

In the months since, 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 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.”

“The issue of rights is not going to go away. The DUP and British Government know this. These rights must be satisfactorily dealt with,” she added,

Sinn Féin is disappointed that the last few weeks of negotiations have ended in failure. We did our best to be flexible and we were prepared to stretch ourselves in the common good.

- With reporting by Paul Hosford

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Rónán Duffy

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