Northern Ireland secretary promises clarity on next year's budget

Conor McGinn

Bradley said the United Kingdom government would only impose direct control of Northern Ireland finances once "all other viable options" had been exhausted.

Mary Lou McDonald told media that she feared "entrenchment and drift" in efforts to restore the executive, which collapsed over one year ago.

She accused the government of engaging in a period of reflection that could create a risky political vacuum and reiterated calls for an intergovernmental conference including Dublin.

Prime minister Theresa May is due to meet leaders from Sinn Fein and the DUP today. He said it may take a short while before there can be any formal engagement between the Government and the DUP.

"Any political vacuum is extremely unsafe", Ms McDonald said.

Hopes of a deal last week foundered over the issue of a standalone Irish Language Act.

However, Sinn Fein is opposed to any form of direct rule from London.

Documents leaked yesterday suggest a draft agreement was in place that included a stand-alone Irish Language Act as well as an Ulster Scots Act and a respecting language and diversity act.

Northern Ireland secretary promises clarity on next year's budget
Northern Ireland secretary promises clarity on next year's budget

The parties still disagree on whether or not a draft agreement was on the table before the talks broke down.

Sinn Féin's leader in Northern Ireland Michelle O'Neill MLA claimed that all parties to the talks, including the DUP, know that the basis for a deal was agreed.

On Tuesday, Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley declined to immediately re-impose direct rule from Westminster.

"I'm hopeful that it will happen in weeks, and that it will set out the trajectory for public services in Northern Ireland".

The devolved government collapsed in a row over a botched green energy scheme.

Months of inter-party negotiations since then have failed to produce a breakthrough, although the British government has said progress has been made.

It surprised many who had believed a deal had been close on contentious issues such as Irish language, marriage equality and the legacy of the past.

"I also think that, given the relationship between the DUP and the British Government today in terms of the confidence and supply agreement, I think that would make a form of direct rule very hard to put in place without creating a real problem for nationalism in Northern Ireland".

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