Northern Ireland

Government accused of ‘economic blackmail’ as Northern Ireland misses out on Levelling Up cash

DUP MP Sammy Wilson said the Government’s ‘rationale for this decision is as spurious as it is outrageous’ (David Young/PA)
DUP MP Sammy Wilson said the Government’s ‘rationale for this decision is as spurious as it is outrageous’ (David Young/PA)

The Government has been accused of “economic blackmail” after no Levelling Up funding was allocated to Northern Ireland.

Some 55 projects across the UK will get a share of nearly £1 billion from the fund aimed at regenerating high streets and improving transport links.

But no funding was allocated to Northern Ireland.

Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove’s department said “given the current absence of a working executive and assembly, the Government is not proceeding with this round of the Levelling Up Fund at this time”.

Previously, Northern Ireland projects were awarded £120 million in the first two rounds of the fund.

The move comes as the Stormont Assembly and Executive remain collapsed after more than a year-and-a-half amid DUP protest action over post-Brexit trading arrangements.

The DUP and Government have been in talks since unionists identified issues with the Windsor Framework earlier this year.

The DUP has blasted an “outrageous act” by Government by snubbing Northern Ireland in the latest round of Levelling Up funding.

But Sinn Fein has blamed the DUP for remaining out of Stormont.

DUP MP Sammy Wilson has claimed the Government is operating “under the cloak of economic blackmail” to “syphon money away from Northern Ireland to shore up Conservative seats in England”.

“Despite being entitled to 3% of the £1 billion, Northern Ireland has not received a single penny from this round of allocations despite there being hundreds of suitable applications in the system,” he said.

“The Government’s rationale for this decision is as spurious as it is outrageous.

“An absence of an executive has no material effect on the allocations, indeed the principal objection in Scotland and Wales to the Levelling Up fund is that it is driven by Westminster rather than the devolved regions.

“The Government should be honest. The real reason for this allocation is to direct more money into the marginal seats in Great Britain where the Conservative Party is struggling.”

Ulster Unionist peer Lord Rogan also criticised the Government, and described the decision as an “incredibly low and cruel blow”.

“I am appalled that, once again, the people of Northern Ireland are being used as pawns in a political game as punishment for the continuing absence of an executive and assembly,” he said.

“These two issues are unrelated as the Levelling Up fund is a UK Government initiative administered and resourced from Whitehall, not Stormont.

“There is no excuse for this and local communities in Northern Ireland should not be attacked in this shameful way.”

Sinn Fein MLA Conor Murphy said that the Levelling Up decision was the result of “one party’s reckless boycott of the Executive is disgraceful”.

“The British Secretary of State has already imposed a punitive budget on people here, attacking public sector workers and services. This is yet another cynical attack on ordinary people,” he said.

“Workers and families continue to pay the price for one party’s reckless boycott of the executive. It is now time for the two-way negotiation between the British Government and the DUP to end.”

SDLP MP Claire Hanna said the DUP’s “continued boycott” of Stormont gave the Government “the perfect cover to leave our services and infrastructure to rot”.

“At a time when we are crying out for funding, many community projects will have lost out on the opportunity for money that would have made a real difference to places across the North,” she said

“It’s laughable to hear the DUP talking about economic blackmail when they have been holding the people of Northern Ireland to ransom for the past year-and-a-half. No matter what hardship has afflicted people here, from the cost-of-living emergency to the collapse of our health service, the DUP have remained unmoved and put their own political concerns over the needs of people who are struggling.”