Northern Ireland

Executive pressed on lack of delivery two months on from restoration of institutions

Opposition leader highlights lack of Programme for Government and budget

Matthew O’Toole
Stormont Opposition leader Matthew O’Toole. PICTURE: LIAM MCBURNEY (Liam McBurney/PA)

Stormont Opposition leader Matthew O’Toole has pressed executive ministers over the lack of delivery in the weeks since the institutions were restored.

Speaking on Tuesday during an assembly debate on the Department of Finance’s spring supplementary estimates, the SDLP MLA urged the executive to outline a Programme for Government (PfG) and for the finance minister to bring forward a budget.

He said two months since the assembly returned, people were “none the wiser” about the power-sharing administration’s plans to deal with a host of pressing problems.

Stormont Finance Minister Caoimhe Archibald said she hopes to put forward a budget ‘in the coming weeks’
Stormont Finance Minister Caoimhe Archibald said she hopes to put forward a budget ‘in the coming weeks’. PICTURE: LIAM MCBURNEY

The Opposition leader said the financial matters before the assembly were “one of the few issues we have debated with substantive legal effect”.

“Since restoration we have seen executive parties line up to introduce motion after motion on everything from childcare to holiday hunger and Lough Neagh, with glossy videos produced implying to the public that some action would be taken on these issues, but still we know nothing of what the Executive plans to do about any of these issues,” Mr O’Toole said.

“The SDLP Opposition has consistently called for a clear plan via a Programme for Government (PfG) and a multi-year budget, but not only do we not have one, ministers are non-committal about when they might actually have a plan to present to the public.”

On Monday, in response to a question from Mr O’Toole’s SDLP colleague Colin McGrath, First Minister Michelle O’Neill said a PfG would “be in place for the summer”.

The Sinn Féin vice-president said she wanted to ensure the PfG “reflects our priorities as we, the four parties of the executive have identified”.

“But let’s get it right. Let’s not be in a hurry. Let’s make sure it’s meaningful and impactful,” she said.

On Tuesday, Finance Minister Caoimhe Archibald said she hoped to put forward a budget “in the coming weeks”.

Her department told The Irish News that since the beginning of February, the minister had secured executive agreement to prioritise public sector pay awards, received MLAs’ agreement of the regional rate and secured assembly agreement on the 2023/24 Budget Bill.

The Department of Finance statement said that because it was the last year of the current Treasury Spending Review period, the executive “does not have a funding envelope beyond 2024/25″ and cannot therefore produce a multi-year budget.