Irish and UK government’s must look to GFA to break powersharing deadlock: Sinn Fein

Sinn Fein leader in the North Michelle O’Neill has called on the UK and Irish governments to intervene in the powersharing deadlock at Stormont to act on outstanding issues.

The Stormont Executive has not sat since powersharing between the DUP and Sinn Fein collapsed in January, due to ongoing disagreements around language and cultural issues including over whether to have an Irish Language Act.

A Budget for Northern Ireland has been put to the parliament in Westminster today by Secretary of State James Brokenshire in lieu of an agreement between the parties to return to government.

Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire moved the bill in the House of Commons, telling MPs he was "reluctant" to do it but that the region would soon run out of funds as the political impasse entered its 11th month.

Mr Brokenshire said: "This is a measure I have deferred for as long as possible."

He said: "Passing this Budget does not mean direct rule."

However shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Smith countered that many in Northern Ireland would not agree with that assessment, particularly those in the nationalist community.

In a statement today, Ms O’Neill reiterated her party’s stance. She said: "It is now the responsibility of the two governments to look to the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement and for a British-Irish intergovernmental conference to meet as soon as possible."

She added: "We have sought urgent meetings with both the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister. The way forward now is for the two governments to fulfil their responsibility as co-guarantors of the Good Friday and St Andrews Agreements, to honour outstanding commitments, and to deliver rights enjoyed by everyone else on these islands to people here."

Sinn Fein have argued that provisions for a standalone Irish Language Act were agreed in the St Andrews Agreement in 2006.

The DUP remains opposed to a standalone bill and have instead suggested a cross-community bill with provisions for both Irish and Ulster Scots.

Prime Minister Theresa May spoke to the DUP and Sinn Fein leadership in separate phone calls on Friday, during which she insisted that a budget being imposed from Westminster is not tantamount to direct rule, and urged the parties to bridge the gaps which remain between them.

Northern Ireland trade union Unison criticised the budget, stating that although it included an overall increase in spending, this in effect amounts to a cut once inflation is factored in.

Unison regional secretary Patricia McKeown said: "It is in fact a cut.

"Health inflation is running at 6%. The budget allocation is only a 5.4% increase.

"This is not sufficient to maintain current services, let alone develop them."

She added: "Today’s budget is another ’stop gap’ that brings us closer to direct rule.

"Whilst we now know the budget allocations for the rest of the financial year, the political decisions needed to implement real positive change for the public will not be made.

"We do not need direct rule. We need our parties to work together in the interests of the people.’’

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