Northern Ireland news

Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill rules out raising tuition fees

Michelle O'Neill, Sinn Féin vice-president and Stormont deputy first minister, speaking on the BBC's Sunday Politics programme
Brendan Hughes

SINN Féin's Michelle O'Neill has ruled out raising university tuition fees after DUP leader Arlene Foster suggested it could be considered by the new Stormont executive.

Northern Ireland students currently pay up to £4,275 a year to study in the region, less than half the £9,250 maximum paid by students who live in England.

On Friday, Mrs Foster said that how universities are funded should be examined when assessing ways for Stormont to raise further revenue.

The first minister said the issue of tuition fees needed to be debated in a "positive way".

But speaking yesterday on the BBC's Sunday Politics programme, Ms O'Neill said they should "not just revert to the old arguments" of water charges and tuition fees.

The deputy first minister said: "We have to work with universities about how they can be creative and innovative about attracting new funding streams.

"Those things will help grow our economy. Those things help make education more affordable. That should be something the new executive does look at, but raising tuition fees is not the way to go."

The debate comes after rift between the British government and the newly restored Stormont executive on the amount of money the Treasury is offering to support resurrecting devolution.

An extra £1 billion has been offered for the wide-ranging deal on power-sharing, but Sinn Féin finance minister Conor Murphy has said the funding is not enough.

Ms O'Neill said much of the funding is "not new money" and Mr Murphy would be holding further discussions with the Treasury this week.

"We have big, big challenges ahead of us. The first step needs to be the treasury needs to fund the deal that the British government has put on the table," she said.

The Sinn Féin vice-president added: "Let's not get carried away with what the British government has put on the table. This is why the argument is not over with the treasury.

"The political parties here have acted in good faith. We have taken a leap of faith. We have entered power-sharing, and that's the right thing to do.

"The British government needs to live up to its commitment. They tabled this text – they need to fund it."

On raising additional revenue, Ms O'Neill said the executive needed a commission "that actually looks at the tax powers that we have".

Before power-sharing collapsed, then Sinn Féin finance minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir had proposed increasing rates for houses valued above the current cap of £400,000 – but the DUP opposed the idea.

Ms O'Neill said there have been no conversations with Mrs Foster about the matter, but Mr Murphy would be looking at responses to a consultation ahead of bringing proposals to the executive.

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