Minister Simon Coveney
By Irish Echo Staff
The Northern Ireland party talks have ground to a halt and the British government has introduced a budget bill for the North at Westminster.
“The introduction of a Budget Bill for Northern Ireland at Westminster today is a significant development for the political process in Northern Ireland, founded on the Good Friday Agreement,” said Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney by way of reaction.
A budget for Northern Ireland, Coveney said, was a matter that should be considered and decided on by the power-sharing Executive and Assembly.
“As there is no Executive in place at present, the necessary budgetary decisions cannot be made by the devolved institutions.”
Coveney continued: “In the meantime, a statutory basis for the continued funding of public services in Northern Ireland is required. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has confirmed that the Budget Bill he is introducing today reflects the advice of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, and has not been subject to political decision-making outside of Northern Ireland.
“I acknowledge that this step has been taken by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland with reluctance and at the latest possible stage in order to seek to preserve the role of the devolved institutions to decide on budgetary and other matters within their responsibility when they are operating again.
“I am deeply disappointed that, after several phases of negotiations in different formats, we still do not have an agreement to form an Executive.
The Irish government, working with the British government, has spared no effort in supporting and facilitating these talks over many months but devolved power-sharing government can only operate on the basis of an agreement reached between the two largest parties.
“The other parties represented in the Assembly - which have shown considerable patience - also have a critical role to play.
The issues under discussion - particularly those on language and culture - go to the heart of the divisions in society in Northern Ireland and so agreement on them is always going to be very challenging.
However, I have always believed that it is possible to reach an honorable compromise which ensures implementation of previous agreements and reflects the core principles of the Good Friday Agreement and power-sharing itself - partnership, equality and mutual respect. It remains my conviction that this is achievable.
It is important to clearly affirm that the Good Friday Agreement remains the indispensable framework for relationships within Northern Ireland, on the island of Ireland and between the UK and Ireland.
In the event that the devolved institutions cannot function, it is the responsibility of the British and Irish governments to ensure that the North/South and East-West institutions of the agreement can continue to operate effectively and in accordance with the letter and the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement and subsequent agreements.
The government has consistently affirmed our unwavering commitment to the Good Friday Agreement, and determination, as a co-guarantor of the agreement, to secure the effective operation of all of its institutions.
The Taoiseach and I continue to engage with the British government and the parties in Northern Ireland to give full effect to that commitment.”