Heaton-Harris convenes meeting with Stormont leaders amid powersharing impasse

The Northern Ireland Secretary is trying to secure the restoration of devolution in the region.
Heaton-Harris convenes meeting with Stormont leaders amid powersharing impasse

By David Young, PA

Stormont leaders are meeting the Northern Ireland Secretary as the Government continues to press the region’s politicians to restore powersharing.

Chris Heaton-Harris convened the meeting at the Northern Ireland Office in Belfast on Thursday morning.

Devolution has been in flux since February when the DUP withdrew its first minister from the ministerial executive in protest at Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol.

The region’s largest unionist party has since blocked the formation of a new administration following May’s Assembly election and prevented the Assembly meeting to conduct legislative business.

The DUP claims the protocol has undermined Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom by creating economic barriers on trade entering the region from Great Britain.

The party has insisted it will not allow a return to powersharing until radical changes to the protocol are delivered.

Last week, Mr Heaton-Harris cut the pay of MLAs by 27.5 per cent to reflect the fact they are not doing their jobs as legislators.

If a new executive is not formed by January 19th, the Government assumes a legal responsibility to call a snap Assembly election by April 13th.

The meeting in Belfast come on a day when Foreign Secretary James Cleverly is holding face-to-face talks with European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic in Brussels to discuss the protocol deadlock.

Another issue that is set to feature in the cross party discussions in Belfast is the continued uncertainty over when £600 Treasury-funded energy support payments will be rolled out to householders in Northern Ireland.

Mr Heaton-Harris has claimed the payments would have already been made if a powersharing executive was in place.

He has raised the prospect of people in the region having to wait until March to get the money, claiming the lack of devolved administration was making the process “very, very complicated”.

However, the DUP has accused the Government of using the delayed cost of living payments as leverage to try to force the party back into powersharing.

The meeting at the NIO is taking place as nurses across Northern Ireland strike over pay and conditions.

A similar strike by the Royal College of Nursing in the region in late 2019 was seen as a factor in securing a return to powersharing after the another political impasse at Stormont.

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