Northern Ireland news

DUP return to Stormont will not be 'calendar' led says Paul Givan

Former DUP first minister Paul Givan. Picture by Mal McCann

MICHELLE O'Neill has described the DUP's block on the restoration of the Stormont institutions as "unfathomable" given the pressures facing families across the north.

The Sinn Féin deputy leader's comments came as former first minister Paul Givan said the DUP's considerations on a return to power-sharing will not be calendar-led.

Stormont's main parties met yesterday to begin discussions about what a potential programme for government might look like when and if the institutions are restored.

At the meeting the head of the civil service Jayne Brady outlined some of the challenges facing public services in the continuing absence of a functioning administration.

Last week the British government tabled a bill at Westminster that would empower ministers to override much of the contentious post-Brexit trading regime it agreed with the EU in the withdrawal talks.

The DUP has blocked the establishment of a new executive in protest at the protocol and stressed that tabling the legislation is not enough to convince it to return to the executive.

Mr Givan said the protocol was the "elephant in the room" during the meeting at Stormont Castle but that the protocol bill needed to be "taken through Westminster".

"It's the conditions that we're looking for, not a calendar, and when those conditions are met Jeffrey Donaldson has made clear that there will be a graduated response from the party, and it's for the government to move that forward and expedite that as soon as possible," he said.

Ms Brady has initiated a process whereby the party leaders will meet every two weeks to discuss planning for a future executive. The parties will also nominate MLAs to sit on working groups that will focus on some of the key priority areas.

Ms O'Neill said the civil service head had "painted a very bleak picture in terms of the difficulties that lie ahead".

"The reality is that the DUP's blockage of the executive is preventing us from being able to agree a budget and is preventing departments the ability to be able to plan for what is going to be a very, very difficult period ahead, certainly the winter months are going to be probably the most challenging the people have ever seen in terms of the cost-of-living crisis," she said.

Alliance leader Naomi Long said the British government should cut the pay of DUP MLAs if the party continued to block the return of Stormont.

"It's fairly clear to me that it's a dire situation that we're in," she said.

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