Wide welcome for Stormont’s return, but concerns remain over outstanding challenges including public sector pay and healthcare

Political stalemate and stagnation means no honeymoon period for incoming Executive

Professor Mark Woolhouse suggested schools could have safely reopened far sooner than they did
Teachers are hoping their outstanding pay issues can be resolved immediately when the new Executive is in place. (Danny Lawson/PA)

Unions in the north have offered a guarded welcome to the Stormont deal as concerns remain over public sector pay.

Organisations representing sectors including teaching and healthcare have called for long-awaited funding for workers to be released immediately now a deal has been reached, while the Catholic Church has also warned families face “enormous” pressures following two years of political stalemate.

Among those to give a hesitant welcome to the deal was the Ulster Teachers’ Union, which said “nerves understandably remain” over the teachers’ pay claim.

The union’s general secretary Jaquie White, said the two years of stalled government came at the tail-end of a “decade of under-funding in education, which will require a committed will and determination to address when so much has been lost”.

She added: “Much remains to be done to confront the challenges schools here are facing, along with other public services.

“The tragedy is though so much time has been wasted and throughout all that time it is our children who’ve been paying the price.”

Irish Congress of Trade Unions assistant general secretary, Gerry Murphy, called for talks between trade unions and public sector employers to “begin immediately so workers can reap the rewards of their principled resistance to these shameful political games”.

New figures show the overall NHS waiting list has fallen
There is new hope the Stormont deal will unlock immediate funding to tackle healthcare waiting lists. (Peter Byrne/PA)

The Royal College of Surgeons Northern Ireland director, Niall McGonigle, hailed the deal’s potential to unlock £34 million for waiting lists from the incoming £3.3 billion financial package.

“Stability, local leadership and a recurring budget is essential if we are to turn the tide on NI’s devastating waiting lists,” he said.

“With this money we hope the Department of Health will create more chances for surgeons to operate on patients at protected surgical hub sites. A sustained Stormont arrangement will also help to refocus hearts and minds on the burning workforce issue that is threatening to destabilise so many health care services, especially surgery.”

The chief executive of charity Cancer Focus NI, Richard Spratt, said many cancer patients had waited “far too long” for treatment amid the Stormont stalemate.

“When facing a cancer diagnosis, time is a luxury few can afford,” he said.

“We need to see the institutions restored at pace, and a health minister in post within days. We must also see the agreement of a robust health budget fit to reduce cancer waiting times, to implement the cancer strategy and to activate the cancer screening and prevention programmes the people of Northern Ireland need.”

Meanwhile, a statement on behalf of the Catholic Church said bishops welcomed the return of Stormont, adding: “At this time of enormous financial pressures on families, bishops call on political leaders to provide for local government decision making, however challenging the choices may be.”