26 September 2023

NORTHERN IRELAND: Officials take charge of Province — again

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Less than three years after representative Government was restored in Northern Ireland, Public Servants are again in charge of running the Province.

Senior official in the Department of Finance, Neil Gibson has assumed emergency powers because of the failure to pass a Budget since the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) pulled out of the power-sharing Executive in February.

The move means Departments can continue to operate but Mr Gibson (pictured) cannot start funding new policies.

He will not have the power to distribute the more than £400 million ($A678 million) of unallocated funds which the Government at Stormont has received from the United Kingdom Treasury since the draft Budget was published.

Mr Gibson is a former chief economist at EY and has held senior roles across the private and public sectors and in academia.

He joined the Department of Finance this year.

Minister for Finance, Conor Murphy said the development would “keep the lights on and keep the doors open at various Departments for another couple of months”.

“It does not allow any response to the emergency that is growing daily in terms of people’s ability to pay their bills and to put food on the table,” Mr Murphy said.

He called for the immediate return of the Executive and urged Westminster to help address the “mounting problems”.

If the Executive does not return to pass a Budget, then Budget legislation could be approved by the Westminster Parliament – as happened the last time devolution was not functioning.

In 2017, the Executive collapsed in the midst of a crisis over a botched home heating scheme and then Head of the Public Service, David Sterling effectively ran the Province for three years.

This time there is no functioning Assembly or Executive at Stormont because of the DUP’s protest against the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The Protocol, part of the UK Government’s deal on leaving the European Union, keeps Northern Ireland aligned with the EU single market for goods.

This has been attacked by the DUP and other unionist politicians for adding restrictions to trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Belfast, 26 August 2022

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