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Stormont calls for fair funding for Northern Ireland

Stormont has sent a clear, unified call to the British government for fair funding for Northern Ireland, First Minister Michelle O’Neill has said.

The parties urged British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to give Northern Ireland the “resources that it needs to deliver effective public services”.

The motion was passed unanimously following a debate in the chamber.

An amendment by the opposition SDLP calling on Finance Minister Caoimhe Archibald to work with ministers to produce costed plans for immediate priorities was also passed.

Meanwhile, the Alliance Party called for an independent commission to set out recommendations around a fiscal framework for Northern Ireland.

The developments came a day after Mr Sunak and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar visited Stormont to mark the return of devolved government after a two-year effective collapse.

Mr Sunak said party leaders should focus on the “day-to-day” concerns of people in Northern Ireland rather than the prospect of a ballot on reunification.

Earlier, Ms Archibald said she had written to the UK’s department of finance requesting a meeting to discuss “significant financial pressures” facing public services.

The British government has pledged a £3.3 billion (€3.9bn) package for a re-established Stormont administration.

However, Northern Ireland politicians have said the sum is insufficient to address public sector pay awards, public services and infrastructure.

FIrst Minister Michelle O’Neill (C) pictured outside Stormont with other Sinn Féin MLAs

In the assembly chamber, Sinn Féin MLA Sinéad Ennis brought a motion, backed by all the parties, calling for the executive to receive the “resources it needs to deliver effective public services”.

During the debate, First Minister Michelle O’Neill said she and deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly felt it was important that a “very clear sign of a shared view of the importance of the matter was sent out”.

She told members they are sending a “very clear message to the British government”.

“We’re not asking for special treatment. We’re asking for fairness and equality. We are asking for funding that reflects the needs of the people that we serve and we are asking for a funding model that is taken for granted in Scotland, Wales, but it’s being denied to us here,” she said.

“Just yesterday, we had the opportunity to meet with the prime minister and we put that to him directly and we presented him with a letter setting all of the facts and clear evidence from the independent fiscal council that our funding is below made clear evidence, that this is the only devolved administration that is being treated in this unfair way, but the government still seeks to ignore that evidence.”

She added: “The government had hoped that we would be bowled over by the headline figure [£3.3 billion] and rush to accept it without due diligence … that’s not how we roll.

“We’re determined here to work together. We are determined here to try and find a better case for public services and I look forward to that battle that we have ahead.”

Ms Little-Pengelly said in her 17 years as a special adviser at Stormont and junior minister before becoming deputy first minister, she had never seen the executive collectively signing a letter on the first day.

“That sends a very strong and positive message and I hope it sends a very, very clear indication to the government that we are serious about this … this is something that we have to get right,” she said.

“We absolutely welcome that there’s some short-term support but what we really need is long-term stability that we can get from some fiscal guarantees, and the concept of charging hard-pressed families here more for poorer services is not something that we will accept.”

Meanwhile, the chairs and vice chairs of Stormont committees were appointed during today’s sitting.

They include Sinn Féin MLA Declan Kearney as chairman of a new committee to scrutinise the workings of the Windsor Framework. DUP MLA David Brooks will serve as vice chair.

Sinn Féin MLA Carál Ní Chuilín was also elected as principal deputy speaker.

Read More:

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Stormont leaders pledge united front amid funding request
British PM says Stormont return a ‘special opportunity’

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris has gone to Washington to brief influential members of the US Congress on the restoration of the Stormont institutions.

In a statement, the Northern Ireland Office said Mr Heaton-Harris would use the opportunity to “champion” Northern Ireland’s potential as a place to work, study, trade and invest.

He will also brief congress members on the UK government’s controversial legacy proposals – now the subject of a case brought by the Irish Government to the European Court of Human Rights.

During the visit he will meet members of Congress, representatives of the State Department and National Security Council, US business figures and the Ad Hoc Committee to Protect the Good Friday Agreement.

Mr Heaton-Harris said: “With the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly restored and working for the people of Northern Ireland, I am pleased to be updating our US stakeholders, whose steadfast support has been invaluable, at this important moment for Northern Ireland.”

“This is an exciting time, with local, elected representatives in place at Stormont to help Northern Ireland realise its full potential as a fantastic place to live, work and invest.

“At the same time, the UK government remains absolutely committed to addressing the legacy of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

“This visit provides a timely opportunity to discuss these important matters, including progress in the implementation of the Legacy Act by the new Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery, and in finalising the Terms of Reference for the Omagh Bombing Inquiry which we hope to announce shortly.”

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