DUP leader: solution to cost of living crisis still possible without first minister

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson insisted today that a budget which could provide emergency support for Northern Ireland in the cost of living crisis can still be secured without the Democratic Unionist Party re-nominating a First Minister.

The DUP leader ruled out a suggestion from the Ulster Unionists that Sir Jeffrey’s party could put a First Minister in place temporarily to bring back the Executive and enable it to distribute hundreds millions of public money to shore up the health service as well as help households under increasing financial strain.

Sinn Fein Finance Minister Conor Murphy has said that an extra £300 million from the UK Treasury cannot be spent unless an Executive is in place to ratify it.

Last month the Executive fell after the DUP withdrew Paul Givan as First Minister in protest against the Northern Ireland Protocol.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP during a press conference in the Great Hall of Parliament Buildings at Stormont.

All five main parties at Stormont met on Thursday afternon but failed to reach a deal on signing off a new budget. They have pledged however to meet again later on Friday morning when they will be briefed by Department of Finance officials.

Speaking at DUP headquarters in East Belfast on Thursday evening, Sir Jeffrey said the meeting with the other parties had been a “good discussion”.

He stressed however that the DUP would not re-nominate a First Minister but said there were other options around that could help those struggling to pay bills.

“The reality is that we don’t have a functioning Executive because of the harm the Northern Ireland Protocol is doing and clearly that still needs to be addressed and I am very clear about that,” he said.

He said an outgoing Executive “should not tie the hands of the incoming government with a three year budget” adding that the five parties should stick with “A Programme for Government” and agree on a budget.

Sir Jeffrey disputed claims that re-nomination was the only way to break the budget deadlock.

“That is now what I understand. I think there are options available, not least through the Department of Finance, for example in relation to rates. Rate bills are going to be out in the next few weeks and I think it is possible for the Executive, for the Department of Finance, to take steps to help people by reducing rate bills.

“That is certainly one option that we need to be looking at and I hope to hear from the Department of Finance tomorrow about that. We have done it before, there are precedents for this so I think it is possible to deliver to households at this critical time,” the DUP leader said.

Doug Beattie, the UUP leader came under fire last night for calling on the DUP to re-nominate a First Minister and revive the Executive.

“I would plead with Sir Jeffrey, even in a limited capacity, to re-nominate so that we could have a budget and then, if he so wishes, to collapse it again. But we never thought collapsing the Executive was the right thing to do in the first place. We need a budget and need a budget so we can have the funds to be able to support people here in Northern Ireland with the huge cost-of-living crisis,” Mr Beattie said.

Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister sharply criticised the UUP leader’s call.

“It is no surprise to me that the Protocol fanatics of Sinn Fein are demanding an end to opposition and climbdown by the DUP over the First Minister, but UUP support for the Sinn Fein stance is something else!”

Mr Allister added that “there is no budget because of the Union-dismantling Protocol.”

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long also urged the DUP to re-nominate a First Minister “even for a short period.”

Mrs Long said: “People are struggling to heat their homes, feed their families or fill their cars with petrol.

“There is £300 million in the Executive’s coffers we would like to see in people’s pockets.”

Finance Minister Murphy has said he received legal advice this week from Northern Ireland’s Attorney General Brenda King who told him he does not have the power to bring in a budget in the absence of an Executive. This advice relates to section 64 of the 1998 Northern Ireland Act which says a finance minister can only introduce a budget before the Assembly after the Executive agrees to it.

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