Julian Smith denied using the escalating situation as leverage to force the Stormont parties back into a power-sharing Executive, insisting he does not have the power to intervene to provide solutions.
Mr Smith convened a stand-alone “health summit” with the five main parties at Stormont House in Belfast this morning as part of the wider talks process to restore devolution.
Aftewards, Mr Smith reiterated his position that he does not have the power to make decisions on the region’s health service, making clear to the parties that it is their responsibility.
“I have explained previously that I don’t believe I have the power to intervene under the Good Friday Agreement, under that agreement that has provided stability to Northern Ireland, over the past decades,” he said.
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“Health was established as a devolved matter.
“And we’re prioritising health today in terms of the talks process. And I really, really hope that, if we can get the devolved institutions back up and running, that is the most sustainable way to getting pay parity for the trade unions and for the workers that have been going on strike.”
Mr Smith also said he did not want to get into a “blame game” with local politicians over the health issue.
“But what I know is I do not have the power to direct the Northern Ireland Civil Service,” he added.
“I’ve been working hard behind the scenes to try to see what money might be available to try to see how we can move this dispute on, and my conclusion is, the best way I can help is to get a sustainable deal over a number of years that gives nurses and hospital workers what they want.”