Britain offers funds to revive Northern Ireland government

By Amanda Ferguson

BELFAST (Reuters) – Britain proposed boosting Northern Ireland’s strained budget on Monday on condition that the region’s power-sharing government is restored, but most local parties said London’s latest bid to end a near two-year stalemate falls short of what is required.

Northern Ireland has been without a government since the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) walked out in protest over Britain’s two attempts to settle post-Brexit trade rules for the region, which shares a land border with EU member Ireland.

Any hope of restoring the mandatory devolved coalition – a centrepiece of the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement that ended three decades of sectarian bloodshed – hinges on parallel talks between the DUP and London over the Brexit rules.

However all parties have sought funds after Britain refused to increase Northern Ireland’s 14.2 billion pound annual budget in April and the proposals put to the five main parties were a bid to remove the added budgetary hurdle.

The leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) Doug Beattie said the package effectively amounted to 3.1 billion pounds ($3.89 billion) over five years. Three parties – including the DUP and the region’s largest party Sinn Fein – said that was not enough.

Britain’s Northern Ireland Office declined to comment on the value of the package.

The politicians, who were stopped on their way into Monday’s talks by protesting health workers demanding they “get back to work”, will hold further talks with Britain’s Northern Ireland Minister Chris Heaton-Harris over the next two days.

Heaton-Harris said he will also continue to engage directly with the DUP on its Brexit concerns. DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson told reporters those talks still have some way to go and that the party is “not afraid to stand our ground”.

The UUP’s Beattie was not optimistic that the critical DUP talks would reach a conclusion before the end of the year.

“I can’t on the life of me see it happening before Christmas,” he told reporters.

($1 = 0.7974 pounds)

(Writing by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Alison Williams)