Secretary of State calls roundtable talks with main Stormont parties to discuss finances

The main political parties at Stormont will meet with Chris Heaton-Harris on Monday at Hillsborough Castle, to discuss the current financial situation in Northern Ireland.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Chris Heaton-Harris, has called the main political parties at Stormont to roundtable talks on Monday. This will be to discuss the current financial situation, as the Department for Infrastructure opens a consultation on introducing water charges.

The meeting comes as government departments are being run by senior civil servants, due to the absence of the Northern Ireland Executive. They have limited powers and cannot make all the decisions that could be made by a minister.

Stormont has now been collapsed for more than a year and a half. Last week the NI Secretary said that the ongoing talks with the Democratic Unionist Party are now in “final, final stages”.

Sinn Fein‘s vice-president Michelle O’Neill has confirmed that her party will be attending the talks on Monday.

A consultation was opened on Thursday by the Department for Infrastructure on introducing water and sewage charges, on the direction of Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris.

“In the absence of an Executive, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has written to the Permanent Secretaries of the Northern Ireland departments, directing them to launch public consultations on measures for supporting budget sustainability and raising additional revenue.

“Conducting these consultations will enable Northern Ireland departments to identify ways to improve the sustainability of public services and public finances, paving the way for long awaited improvement and transformation of these services that we all rely on and want to protect.

“It is our hope and expectation that a returning Executive will grip the information and consultation responses that Northern Ireland departments put together and use this to make the necessary decisions to keep the public finances in order.

“Only that way can we ensure that public services work well in the long term.”

– Northern Ireland Office spokesperson

The DUP have said that they will “stand up for households” and oppose domestic water charges.

“Having previously ensured that domestic water charges were not introduced in Northern Ireland, the DUP will continue to stand up for households across Northern Ireland in vehement opposition to any such proposal.

The people of Northern Ireland already pay for their water through their Rates Bill and any further attempt to introduce another tax by stealth, will simply not fly.

The current underfunding of Northern Ireland Water is yet another symptom of the failure by HM Government to fund public services here based upon objective need.

It is neither fair nor sustainable for Northern Ireland to be funded below need, the solution to this problem requires the underfunding of public services here to be addressed by the Treasury.

The DUP has been highlighting this problem consistently and we will continue to press this matter in our ongoing discussions with the Government, to ensure key public services are properly funded both now and in the future.”

– Philip Brett MLA, DUP

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