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Home / News / New NI executive will deal with ‘unfinished business’

New NI executive will deal with ‘unfinished business’

The new Stormont power-sharing executive will be united in dealing with the “unfinished business” of funding for public services in Northern Ireland, DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson has said.

Party leaders met at Stormont to discuss the key priorities for the incoming executive ahead of it being formed tomorrow.

The DUP has given the green light for the recall of the Assembly on the back of its deal with the British government, which Mr Donaldson said has effectively removed the so-called Irish Sea border for goods moving from Britain to and staying in Northern Ireland.

Yesterday, two pieces of legislation contained in the agreement to resurrect devolution were fast-tracked through the House of Commons.

Speaking following the meeting with other parties, Mr Donaldson said: “It is important when the executive meets that we have a real sense of what those priorities are for everyone in Northern Ireland.

“We are looking forward to the Assembly meeting tomorrow, going through the formalities, getting devolution restored.”

The DUP leader would not be drawn on who his party will nominate for the role of deputy first minister, an office that wields the same powers as the first minister.

However, there has been speculation that Lagan Valley MLA Emma Little-Pengelly will take on the role.

Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill will be the first nationalist first minister at Stormont

The British government has offered a £3.3 billion package to secure Northern Ireland’s finances when the assembly returns, including £600 million to settle public sector pay claims.

However, Mr Donaldson indicated that the parties would be working together to secure more cash from London.

He said: “We had a really good discussion around the table with the other parties. We agreed with the other parties that this is a priority, you will hear more about that in the coming days.

“There is agreement about what we need to get from the government. You will not have to wait long to see the new executive in action, making those priorities clear to the Treasury and pressing them for additional funding which is required.”

He added: “The finance piece is unfinished business which we intend to finish.”

Mr Donaldson said he will “hold the government’s feet to the fire” to ensure it delivers on the deal which has restored devolution, set out in a command paper titled Safeguarding the Union.

“There is undoubtedly a trust issue here,” the DUP leader told BBC Radio Ulster.

He said: “I will hold the government’s feet to the fire, there are new mechanisms. I’m not just relying on the UK government.

“There’s a new independent monitoring panel to be established under this agreement, which will hold the government’s feet to the fire as an independent body.”

Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie confirmed his party will enter the Northern Ireland executive when it is restored.

He said he saw a “sense of cohesion” among the parties which would form the executive.

When the Northern Ireland Assembly does reconvene at Parliament Buildings tomorrow, it will witness the historically significant moment of the appointment of its first nationalist first minister, Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill.

Ms O’Neill and Alliance Party leader Naomi Long also attended today’s meeting but left without speaking to the media.

Stormont will first choose a new speaker before nominating first and deputy first ministers.

In a letter to MLAs, outgoing Speaker and Sinn Féin MLA Alex Maskey said: “The office of Speaker, with the requirement to impartially represent all Members of the Assembly, is a very specific and unique role in our political system.”

Alex Maskey met with party whips at Stormont ahead of tomorrow’s recall

He said it was a “tremendous honour” to hold the position.

“While that had its frustrations, I consider myself privileged to have been able to represent the Assembly for key occasions including the passing of Queen Elizabeth II in September 2022, the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement in April 2023 and the visit of the US senior business delegation in October 2023,” Mr Maskey added.

Mr Maskey met with party whips at Stormont ahead of tomorrow’s recall.

Orange Order chief backs DUP deal with British government

While Mr Donaldson secured the backing of a majority of party colleagues to accept the deal with the British government, there are those within the DUP who remain deeply sceptical of the proposed agreement to restore powersharing.

The DUP leader is also facing opposition outside his party.

However, the DUP leader was given a significant boost when a high-profile Orange Order chief declared his personal support for the package.

Grand Secretary of the Orange Order Mervyn Gibson, writing in the Belfast Telegraph, said while the deal was not perfect, it was a “win for unionist determination and unity, and needs to be accepted as such”.

A former attorney general for Northern Ireland rejected the contention that a British government deal to restore Stormont had removed an Irish Sea border.

John Larkin was commissioned by several vocal opponents of the agreement to assess the legal effect of the measures.

The legal opinion was commissioned by Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) leader Jim Allister, loyalist activist Jamie Bryson, former Brexit Party MEP Ben Habib and former Labour MP Kate Hoey.

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But Mr Donaldson said he “fundamentally disagreed” with the conclusions of Mr Larkin’s legal opinion.

The British government has faced questions in parliament from Brexiteer backbenchers who have expressed concern that the deal agreed with the DUP would place limits on the UK’s ability to diverge from EU regulations.

Ministers have sought to reassure MPs that the measures will not affect the UK’s capacity to diverge.

Read more:
‘She’s still Michelle to us’: Clonoe hails incoming First Minister O’Neill
Concerns remain as DUP champions deal with UK government

The paper commits to replacing the Windsor Framework’s green lane process at Northern Ireland ports, which requires percentages of goods to be checked as they arrive from Great Britain, with a “UK internal market system” that will govern the movement of goods that remain within the United Kingdom.

Checks would still be carried out but on a risk-based/intelligence-led model to combat illegality and disease, rather than routine stops of disembarking lorries.

Businesses using the internal market system would also need to be signed up to a trusted trader scheme.

The measure to reduce checks on trade from Britain to Northern Ireland is part of a wide-ranging deal agreed between the DUP and the government that would bring about the restoration of devolved government in Northern Ireland after a two-year hiatus.

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said that while he has some difficulties with aspects of the “Safeguarding the Union” command paper, he said it does not “cross any red lines”.

Welcoming plans to restore Storment, Mr Varadkar said that it contained “negative language” about the all island economy, adding that it “very much puts the British Government in the place of being advocates of the union”, whereas in the past the UK signed up to “rigorous impartiality”.

“But none of those things cross any red lines in my view,” he said.

Mr Varadkar said that it was Ireland’s objective that the Good Friday Agreement would be respected, there would be no hard border on the island and the country’s position in the EU single market would not be diminished.

“None of those red lines are crossed,” he told reporters.

“If this is the price, if this is what has to be accepted in order to allow power sharing to resume I think that’s worth it,” he said.

Mr Varadkar said that he looked forward to working with North-South bodies and the new First and Deputy First Ministers.

Additional reporting Tommy Meskill

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