Government doesn't 'grasp gravity of Northern Ireland's financial situation': DUP MLA

DUP MLA Gordon Lyons, alongside his colleague Emma Little-Pengelly, speaks to the media outside Hillsborough Castle. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA WireDUP MLA Gordon Lyons, alongside his colleague Emma Little-Pengelly, speaks to the media outside Hillsborough Castle. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
DUP MLA Gordon Lyons, alongside his colleague Emma Little-Pengelly, speaks to the media outside Hillsborough Castle. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
​The UK Government doesn’t “grasp the gravity of the situation and where we are at in terms of our public finances,” Gordon Lyons has claimed.

The DUP MLA and former economy minister said there had to be a long-term solution to Northern Ireland's funding crisis.

Money to settle outstanding public sector pay demands in NI is included in a £2.5 billion package the government has offered in support of a restored powersharing administration in Belfast.

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But NI Secretary Chris Heaton Harris has made clear to the local parties that the package will only be made available if devolution returns.

My Lyons said: "We don't want something which just gets us over the hump of this year or allows for pay increases to take place over one year.

"We want to ensure in the next number of years we have that certainty so we're not back here again and public sector workers are having to go on strike again."

Regarding a potential return to Stormont before Christmas, he said: "We have not and are not going to put any timelines on this.

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"We are very clear we want to see Stormont back on a sustainable footing. That means the political issues, the constitutional issues, the economic issues, need to be resolved.

"I am hopeful that progress can be made, and be made quickly."

But he said his party returning to Stormont was not enough to bring financial stability.

"The reality is we need to see that funding in place and that funding is not there. That is what we are looking to resolve," he said.

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He added: "Going back to Stormont in of itself does not resolve these issues."

Pay awards made to other public sector workers in the UK this year have not been implemented in Northern Ireland due to the region's ongoing governance impasse and associated financial woes.

Representatives of the five main parties attended talks with Government officials at Hillsborough Castle on Tuesday to examine the finer detail of the financial offer tabled on Monday.

But party leaders have already said the package does not go far enough.

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The offer also comes with an expectation that returning devolved ministers would seek to raise more revenue within Northern Ireland, with hiked rates bills one route by which that could be achieved.

The proposed measures in the government package include funding for public sector pay rises this year, reform of the funding model for Northern Ireland - including the setting of a new fiscal floor, and increasing the period by which Stormont has to pay back a budget overspend.

As the politicians assessed the details of the offer in Hillsborough on Tuesday, public sector workers staged a protest at the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) in Belfast.

Emerging from the discussions inside Hillsborough Castle, Sinn Fein's Conor Murphy called on the Government to immediately release the lump sum to settle the public sector pay claim.

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"The fact is, if the British Government currently has money to pay public sector workers who are standing out here yesterday freezing (at a protest at Hillsborough Castle) and will be on strike again, why don't they pay them now?" he said.

"Why should workers have to wait for the DUP to decide if they are going to do powersharing or not do powersharing as to whether they will get a wage this year?"

Ulster Unionist MLA Steve Aiken said “Northern Ireland needs Stormont back as soon as possible” and that his party welcomes the financial package. A properly funded, multi-year financial package is fundamental to good government”.

He added: ‘’While the NIO is asking that the Executive deliver revenue raising, we shall be asking that Northern Ireland be given a lower corporation tax rate to compensate for the additional costs of Policing & Justice, the Protocol/Windsor Framework and to encourage business growth, jobs and prosperity.’’

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Alliance MLA Andrew Muir said there was a risk the negotiations could drift over Christmas as he said public patience with the DUP has "run out".

"We also need a clear message from the DUP that they are going to go back into the Assembly and the Executive," he said.