Friday 17 January 2020

Boris Johnson heads to NI to give new Stormont deal Westminster's rubber-stamp

Boris Johnson with DUP leader Arlene Foster (Niall Carson/PA)
Boris Johnson with DUP leader Arlene Foster (Niall Carson/PA)

Suzanne Breen

Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar will visit Stormont today to meet ministers in the new power-sharing Executive and hear their plans for public services reform.

The British Prime Minister will fly into Belfast this morning.

Both he and the Taoiseach are expected to hold talks with Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill at Stormont Castle.

Mr Johnson will then meet the other Executive ministers. Sources said he was also expected to visit Parliament Buildings where he will be given a tour by Sinn Fein Speaker Alex Maskey.

The visit follows last week's deal to restore devolution which saw the political institutions return on Saturday after a three-year suspension. Speaking before his visit, the Prime Minister said discussions at Stormont would focus on how the Executive intends to take forward "critical reforms" to public services.

This is an historic time for the people of Northern Ireland," he said. "After three years, Stormont is open for business again with an Executive who can now move forward with improving people's lives and delivering for all communities."

He added: "I look forward to meeting with the new Executive and hearing about their plans for the future - including driving forward much-needed reforms to public services and resolving the current health strike.

"The next decade will be an incredible time of opportunity for Northern Ireland and the whole of the UK as we come together to unleash the potential of our four nations."

Mrs Foster last night told the Belfast Telegraph that there would be real partnership between the parties in the new Executive.

"We need to work as a team. After three years of stalemate, the public expect us to deliver. There needs to be a renewed focus on solutions rather than recrimination or point-scoring," she said.

The First Minister gave her full support to Health Minister Robin Swann. "In particular, I want to work with the Health Minister to ensure he has the support to introduce the reforms which are needed.

The NHS is unique to the UK. It is one of our greatest attributes. In Northern Ireland it's not performing the way it could because key reforms and tough decisions have been ducked. To make lasting change will require a collegiate approach by all parties."

Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said she hoped the five Executive parties were "united in our determination to deliver a stable power-sharing coalition that works on the basis of openness, transparency and accountability, and in good faith and with no surprises".

She added: "We must work together to solve the problems facing this society. We will apply the full powers and resources of the Executive and Assembly to address the major issues of the day facing those whom we all represent."

Finance Minister Conor Murphy said that London and Dublin must deliver on the financial commitments they made in last week's deal. The local parties had done their bit by going back into Stormont and it was now time for the governments to honour their funding pledges, he said.

"The New Decade, New Approach document presented by the governments contains ambitious commitments for public services and workers," he said.

"To deliver these commitments, the governments pledged a substantial injection of funding, over and above the block grant. The local parties have done their part by restoring the power-sharing Executive.

"The two Governments must now honour their pledge and provide the funding needed to deliver on the New Decade, New Approach document."

Declan Kearney, a newly appointed Sinn Fein junior minister, said the deal to restore Stormont had created a "beachhead" to advance the debate toward a united Ireland.

He told RTE's The Week In Politics: "I see it as an opportunity now to not only ensure that these institutions work in the interests of all sections of society and firmly on the basis of rights, equality and integrity, but we have now got a landmark opportunity, a beachhead with which to advance the debate on constitutional change in the island and to take this as an engine for moving forward towards Irish unity and I am very confident that we have the circumstances to achieve that."

TUV leader JIm Allister responded: "I have long warned that Sinn Fein would never be in Stormont to make Northern Ireland work, but to use it as a staging post to Irish unity.

"Kearney confirms that is exactly the strategy."

Belfast Telegraph

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