Northern Ireland

Stormont's political parties to meet Chris Heaton-Harris to discuss north's finances

Chris Heaton-Harris will hold talks with Stormont's political parties on Monday. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA
Chris Heaton-Harris will hold talks with Stormont's political parties on Monday. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Chris Heaton-Harris will hold talks with Stormont's political parties on Monday. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA

Talks between Stormont's political parties and Chris Heaton-Harris to address the north's finances are set to take place today.

The Northern Ireland secretary of state will meet politicians from the five main parties for the round-table talks at Hillsborough Castle.

While the meeting is scheduled to discuss the future of the north's finances, calls are set to be made for the restoration of power-sharing.

It comes amid continuing speculation over whether the DUP and UK government will strike a deal to restore power-sharing.

The DUP has been boycotting devolution since February 2022 over post-Brexit trade arrangements.

The party has been involved in negotiations with the government about the Windsor Framework, which reformed the protocol, and is seeking further assurances by way of legislation over the north's place in the UK internal market.

Mr Heaton-Harris last week said talks with the DUP were in the "final, final stages". 

Read more:

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

Education leaders urge Heaton-Harris to step in over ‘chronic underfunding'

DUP's Gavin Robinson says British government has failed to address Windsor Framework concerns

Sinn Féin vice-president Michelle O'Neill has confirmed her party will attend today's round-table talks "with a firm and clear focus on the immediate restoration of the Assembly".

But she said she had written to Mr Heaton-Harris urging him to "bring an end to their circular negotiation with the DUP and then to take urgent action aimed at restoring the Executive, the Assembly and the north-south bodies".

"All those attending today’s meeting must do so in good faith.

Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O'Neill said she had written to the NI secretary of state. Picture by Niall Carson/PA Wire
Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O'Neill said she had written to the NI secretary of state. Picture by Niall Carson/PA Wire Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O'Neill said she had written to the NI secretary of state. Picture by Niall Carson/PA Wire

"Workers, families and businesses right across society have expressed their hope to see the Assembly restored now.

"We stand ready to engage on the budgetary challenges devastating our public services, which demands proper financial resources from the British government to address the fact that, based on need, we are underfunded.

"I want to work with the governments and all parties to get the Executive up again and to get back on track."

Earlier this year in the absence of no executive, Mr Heaton-Harris set the budget for Northern Ireland, but it has led to several Stormont departments facing difficult decisions and having to implement some cuts.

He has asked all Stormont departments to launch public consultations on potential revenue-raising measures for the north.

On Thursday, the department for infrastructure launched a consultation on introducing water and sewerage charges in Northern Ireland.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood MP also said today's meeting should not be a "simple briefing on the state of public finances, but instead should form the basis of a final dialogue to restore the Executive to deal with the crisis in public services".

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA SDLP leader Colum Eastwood. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA

He said the discussions "must generate the final momentum to restore the Executive, there must be a serious plan to rescue public services and we need to hear how a fair pay reward for public sector workers out on strike will be resourced".

“We aren’t going to Hillsborough for a cosy catchup," he said.

"It’s time to get the deal done and restore the government.”

But DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said people are "getting over-excited" by the announcement of all-party talks, as more work remains to be done before a return to Stormont.

In a letter to party members seen by the PA News Agency, Sir Jeffrey insisted that the roundtable discussion is separate from the DUP's negotiations with the government in relation to the restoration of devolution.

"Whilst some were getting over-excited by this meeting being called, it is nonetheless a step forward in that the government seem to be focused on Northern Ireland finances and accepting the case we have been making, for several years, that Northern Ireland is underfunded," he said.

"Monday's roundtable is distinct from our discussions with the government regarding the NI Protocol / Windsor Framework.

"Those talks continue to make progress, but more work is required to conclude that process if we are to have arrangements acceptable to unionists as well as nationalists."