Rishi Sunak to meet Irish premier, marking return of devolved government in Northern Ireland

5 February 2024, 06:27 | Updated: 5 February 2024, 08:43

The newly-formed Executive has already written to the Prime Minister calling for urgent discussions on long-term funding stability to deliver public services.
The newly-formed Executive has already written to the Prime Minister calling for urgent discussions on long-term funding stability to deliver public services. Picture: Alamy
Jasmine Moody

By Jasmine Moody

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Irish premier Leo Varadkar are to visit Stormont as they mark the return of devolved government in Northern Ireland.

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Mr Sunak and Mr Varadkar will meet each other and leaders of the new power-sharing Executive which was formed on Saturday - this ends two years of political stalemate.

The newly-formed Executive has already written to the Prime Minister calling for urgent discussions on long-term funding stability to deliver public services.

The Executive, which is led by Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill and the DUP's Emma Little-Pengelly, will also hold its first meeting on Monday to begin the task of trying to deal with Northern Ireland's strained finances.

Ms O'Neill made history when she was appointed the region's first nationalist First Minister.

The institutions were restored after a deal between Mr Sunak's government and the DUP to address unionist concerns over post-Brexit trading arrangements, which included passing new legislation at Westminster.

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Rishi Sunak will also carry out community engagements during his visit to Northern Ireland, meeting people involved in public services.

On Sunday, the British prime minister was at the headquarters of Air Ambulance Northern Ireland in Co Antrim, where he said the return of Stormont represented a "brighter future for people".

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (left) during a visit to Air Ambulance Northern Ireland at their headquarters in Lisburn.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (left) during a visit to Air Ambulance Northern Ireland at their headquarters in Lisburn. Picture: Alamy

The UK Government has offered a £3.3 billion package to stabilise finances in the region, and settle public sector pay claims - but the Executive will press Mr Sunak for more funding.

Mr Sunak said the offer represents "a generous and fair settlement", adding that "crucially, it is sustainable.

"It is about ensuring public finances in Northern Ireland are sustainable for the long term. That approach we have taken, I think, will really benefit everyone here.

"And now that we have got the Executive back up and running, it is right that people have their local politicians focusing on their priorities, starting with public services.

"There has not been devolved government up and running here for far too long. But now we do have it and they can start focusing on delivering for everyone”, he added.

However, the letter from all Stormont ministers to the Prime Minister states that the current financial package on offer "does not provide the basis for the Executive to deliver sustainable public services and public finances".

Ms O'Neill said: "This morning the Prime Minister will meet Executive ministers united in our determination to get the right long-term funding package agreed.

"If we are to tackle the serious problems across public services - in our hospitals and our schools - then how we are funded needs to change and I will be strongly pressing that point at today's meeting.

"It is critical that the Executive has the right resources to deliver effective public services for all our citizens and we will engage with the Prime Minister to achieve our shared objective."

The newly-formed Executive has already written to the Prime Minister calling for urgent discussions on long-term funding stability to deliver public services.
The newly-formed Executive has already written to the Prime Minister calling for urgent discussions on long-term funding stability to deliver public services. Picture: Alamy

Ms Little-Pengelly said the Executive would be "speaking with one voice" in its meeting with the Prime Minister.

She added: "We will be saying that the people of Northern Ireland deserve better public services and that we need to work together - the Executive and the Government - to deliver long-term fiscal stability.

"We are ready to engage with the Government and get down to the work of putting our finances on a sound footing, however, we will also be seeking to ensure the UK Government provides sufficient funding in a package to fulfil its promises on public sector pay."

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