10/10/2018

NI Parties Criticise Bill For Decision-Making Process

Northern Ireland political leaders have criticised the government's draft proposal to give local civil servants enhanced powers.

The comments follow fresh talks to unlock the decision-making impasse in Northern Ireland on Monday 08 October, in which a draft bill was tabled.

There has been no functioning executive at Stormont since January 2017. Following a landmark court ruling earlier this year regarding a waste incinerator in County Antrim, government officials have been unable to take major decisions without ministerial oversight.

The new draft bill aims to allow senior civil servants to exercise departmental functions as long as they are acting in the public interest.

On Monday, Sinn Fein, the DUP, SDLP, Ulster Unionists and Alliance parties all had separate talks with Ms Bradley.

During the course of the meetings, Ms Bradley assured politicians she would seek clarification on the decision-making situation.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds expressed his concern over the proposed legislation.

He said: "We don't believe that it is in the right place yet.

"It does not provide sufficient certainty about decision-making.

"We have left the Secretary of State with a list of concerns that she needs to address before this legislation is tabled."
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Mr Dodds said that a situation in which decisions are deferred or not taken, or the wrong decisions are made, is unacceptable.

Sinn Fein's deputy leader Michelle O'Neill said she understands the need for decision-making, but that it has to under "strict guidance and limited circumstances".

Mrs O'Neill also criticised Ms Bradley for showing a lack of fresh thinking with regards to the Stormont impasse.

She said: "Today was a bit of a groundhog day and we did not hear anything new from Karen Bradley that would give us any kind of hope that her Government has any interest in prioritising the needs of the people here."

The SDLP and Alliance parties both made calls for an independent facilitator to bring a fresh perspective to the situation, as previous talks processes have repeatedly failed.

"We have a lack of energy in terms of any meaningful process in terms of the restoration of devolution," said Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry.

"We have been pushing for weeks and indeed months for an independent facilitator to be appointed to try to kick start some form of process" in order to hit the ground running, Mr Farry explained.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood reiterated that notion. He said: "The two governments have a responsibility now to step in, to take decisions, to get the hard issues off the table and get us back to work.

"In the absence of that, there needs to be a talks process convened with an independent chair."

(JG)

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