Northern Ireland

Heaton-Harris to meet party leaders over Stormont stalemate

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris is expected to meet party leaders in coming days (Victoria Jones/UK)
Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris is expected to meet party leaders in coming days (Victoria Jones/UK) Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris is expected to meet party leaders in coming days (Victoria Jones/UK)

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris is to hold a fresh round of talks with party leaders this week in a bid to break the Stormont stalemate.

The bilateral meetings will take place over coming days in Northern Ireland and London and will also focus on budget pressures facing Stormont departments.

Mr Heaton-Harris is expected to press the parties on their plans for a costed programme for government for any incoming Executive.

The Stormont Assembly has been in flux for more than a year amid DUP protest action over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The Windsor Framework was agreed by the EU and UK earlier this year as a way to reduce red tape on trade between GB and NI.

Stormont
Stormont The powersharing institutions at Stormont have not been functioning for more than a year (Liam McBurney/PA)

But the DUP has insisted it will not return to Stormont until the Government provides further legislative assurances around Northern Ireland’s place within the UK internal market.

Senior civil servants have been left running Stormont departments and face having to make substantial cuts following a budget set by Mr Heaton-Harris.

It is understood that Mr Heaton-Harris has also received the first batch of replies from civil servants examining potential revenue-raising options for Northern Ireland.

Last month, the Northern Ireland Secretary wrote to Stormont permanent secretaries seeking more information about “measures that could otherwise improve the sustainability of public finances in Northern Ireland”.

These included introducing domestic water charges and drug prescription charges, and raising tuition fees.

Officials at the Northern Ireland Office are expected to meet the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service in the near future to discuss the responses.