Unions' warning to Brokenshire

Despite opposing an emergency direct rule budget at Stormont, Sinn Féin has failed to propose any alternative which will stop public sector workers being laid off before Christmas if their talks with the DUP fail.

Saturday, 4th November 2017, 7:13 am
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 6:48 am
4/5/2014 PACEMAKER PRESS INTL. Gerry Adams speaking to the media on being released this evening from Antrim police station this afternoon after being questioned in relation to the murder of Jean McConville. Picture Charles McQuillan/Pacemaker MAGAZINE END OF YEAR PICTURES - FREELANCE

The party has warned of dire consequences if there is any move to direct rule from Westminster, something it says would “deepen the nature of the political crisis with international implications”.

The government insists that although passing a Stormont budget at Westminster would be an act of direct rule it should not be viewed as direct rule because the figures within the document will be provided by Stormont civil servants – an argument which many at Stormont has dismissed.

Those civil servants – who since April have been operating without a budget and with the legal authority to spend no more than 95% of the previous year’s budget – have warned that if they do not have the legislation in place by the end of this month they will literally start to run out of money.

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Stormont mandarins have always been operating on the understanding that Westminster would step in before that point and Secretary of State James Brokenshire has publicly made clear that the government has a responsibility to ensure that such a point is never reached.

However, Sinn Féin disagrees, arguing that London should never involve itself in a devolved matter.

Yesterday the News Letter asked Sinn Féin what it proposed as an alternative if it is not prepared to see a direct rule budget, what other mechanism it would like to see to ensure that public servants are not laid off next month.

In response, other than arguing that the DUP should drop its opposition to Sinn Féin’s demands and form an Executive which could pass the budget, the party offered no other route whereby if that process fails public sector workers could keep their jobs.

Reiterating its desire to see the Executive restored “to set budgets and make decisions for local people on the basis of equality, rights and respect”, the party said that was the only way that an Executive could be “credible and sustainable”.

The party added: “The DUP’s refusal to accept a future based on rights and equality, an anti-rights position facilitated by a British government dependent on the DUP for its own survival, has prevented the restoration of an executive of locally accountable ministers.

“The DUP and the British government should end their denial of rights enjoyed by citizens everywhere else on these islands, implement previous agreements and engage in meaningful dialogue to get the institutions back up and running.

“That would enable the budget and its priorities to be set by locally appointed ministers and an executive acting as a bulwark against vicious Tory cuts, which are now supported by the DUP.”

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann urged the government to press ahead with a direct rule budget and said that Gerry Adams should drop his “ludicrous threats” around the possibility of direct rule and added: “If the Secretary of State took Gerry Adams’ advice and decided not to legislate at Westminster for a budget for Northern Ireland, just how does Gerry Adams think we will pay for public services, public sector wages or benefits?

“He would be the first person leading the complaints that the British government was not fulfilling its obligations and was infringing the rights of local people if thousands of public sector workers were laid off because the local public sector had run out of money.”