Government’s draft proposals on decision-making at Stormont ‘need more work’

The Government’s draft proposals to unlock decision-making paralysis in Northern Ireland do not provide proper accountability and are an invitation for legal challenge, unionists said.

A recent court ruling that a civil servant acted outside his powers in a planning application for a waste incinerator in Co Antrim has left officials unable to take major decisions without ministerial oversight.

Northern Ireland has been without a devolved Government since early last year.

NI Secretary Karen Bradley has promised to clarify the decision-making situation and shared her initial thoughts on draft laws with the main Stormont parties during meetings in Belfast on Monday.

Ulster Unionist Stormont Assembly member Steve Aiken said: “It will last as long as there is a High Court judgement against it, it is an opportunity for every lawyer in Northern Ireland to try to get a judicial review against it.

“It is not a way to go forward, the way to go forward is get all the parties back together, get the talks process moving and get on with it.”

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds also expressed concern.

“We don’t believe that it is in the right place yet.

“It does not provide sufficient certainty about decision-making.

“It does not provide proper accountability and I think more work needs to be done on that and we have left the Secretary of State with a list of concerns that she needs to address before this legislation is tabled.”

He added: “We cannot have a situation where decisions are either deferred interminably or not taken, or the wrong decision has been taken, whilst those decisions have been taken for the rest of the UK.”

Stormont has not sat since early last year after Sinn Fein left the institutions in protest at the DUP’s handling of a botched green energy scheme.

Repeated rounds of negotiations have failed to bring about their resurrection.

Sinn Fein’s deputy leader Michelle O’Neill said she understood the need for decision-making.

She added: “However, it has to be under strict guidance and it has to be under limited circumstances.”

She reiterated her criticism of the Government over what she claimed was its lack of fresh thinking.

“Today was a bit of a groundhog day, and we did not hear anything new from Karen Bradley that would give us any kind of hope that her Government has any interest in prioritising the needs of people here.”

The leaders of the main churches in Ireland said building trust was important to help restore devolved powersharing.

The religious figures representing the Catholic church and denominations of Protestantism said their meeting with Ms Bradley had been positive and encouraging.

In a joint statement they said: “Our discussions today came on the back of our meeting with the political parties a week ago, where we discussed our concerns over the impact of the absence of devolved government in Northern Ireland and the importance of relationships and building trust.”