Northern Ireland

DUP plays down prospects of imminent deal as Irish government repeats Stormont cash offer

Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe. Picture by Brian Lawless/PA
Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe. Picture by Brian Lawless/PA

DUP sources are playing down the prospects for a restoration of the Stormont institutions before Christmas but insist the negotiation process with the British government is close to concluding.

Remarks on Sunday by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in which he suggested there was a "real possibility" of devolution returning by Christmas or the new year prompted speculation that a breakthrough is imminent.

The Fine Gael leader's comments contrasted with Michéal Martin's assessment of the process little over a fortnight ago, when the Tánaiste said momentum towards the restoration of the institutions "seems to have ebbed".

The Taoiseach's remarks were also markedly different in tone from what he said in August during a visit to Belfast. On that occasion, Mr Varadkar said that if the opportunity to restore devolution was missed then "conversations about alternatives, about plan B" were needed.

In his latest comments, he suggested the Irish government would be "happy to contribute" to any financial package that accompanied a Stormont reboot.

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His cabinet colleague Paschal Donohoe made a similar offer on Monday, saying Dublin was willing to “help in any way economically” if a deal was secured.

The minister for public expenditure said it would be delivered through the Shared Island initiative.

“I’d have to say the benefits of getting the institutions in Northern Ireland up and running again would be of such benefit to the entire island of Ireland, and obviously to the communities of Northern Ireland, that the government would really lean in to try to help in any way that we can with this economically," he said.

“But, at the moment, we have a large amount of funding within the Shared Island fund that has yet to be allocated and that is the first place which would offer the ability to support any initiative that may help.”

It's almost 22 months since the DUP withdrew from the executive in protest over the Northern Ireland Protocol, the EU-UK deal that was revised in February through the Windsor Framework.

The party is seeking assurances around Northern Ireland's place in the UK single market.

When asked about the potential for a restoration of the institutions before Christmas, a DUP source said it was "unlikely".

The source indicated that the failure to get devolution up and running before the festive period was "as much about the practicalities". They cited the need for Westminster to pass legislation and for details to be finalised that would put the restored institutions on a sustainable footing. 

The source said negotiations with the British government were "in the closing stages" and that "a call will be made fairly soon".  

Former DUP deputy leader Lord Nigel Dodds has said there is only one opportunity to address the party's concerns around the post-Brexit trade arrangements.

"There will be no realistic prospect of any further substantive change afterwards," he told the News Letter.