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NI party-to-party dialogue in roundtable discussion with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Rt Hon Chris Heaton-Harris MP yesterday met NI parties to discuss the issues caused by ongoing governance gap in Northern Ireland, the UK-EU negotiations on the NI Protocol and NI’s challenging budgetary situation.

In attendance were Emma Little-Pengelly MLA and Gordon Lyons MLA of the DUP, Mary Lou McDonald TD and Michelle O’Neill MLA of Sinn Féin, Naomi Long MLA and Stephen Farry MP of Alliance, and Doug Beattie MC MLA and Steve Aiken MLA of the UUP, and Claire Hanna MP and Matthew O’Toole MLA of the SDLP.

During the meeting, the Secretary of State set out the next steps concerning Executive formation, following the introduction of legislation in Parliament yesterday extending the period for formation by one year to 18 January 2024. The legislation will also enable the Government to bring this new period to an early end and move to elections sooner, if it becomes necessary.

During discussions about governance in NI, the Secretary of State informed the parties that the quickest and simplest way to implement Dáithí’s Law is to affirm the legislation in the NI Assembly. He has written to the NI parties with a step by step guide to  how they can achieve this.

Discussions also reflected upon the recent passing of the 2022/2023 Northern Ireland Budget Bill as well as the priorities and challenges for 2023/2024 NI Budget with the Secretary of State stating that he will shortly be setting the NI Regional Rate for the next financial year.

The meeting ended with the Secretary of State stressing the importance of restoring the Executive in the interests of people in Northern Ireland.

Commenting after the meeting, Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris said:

It is disappointing that further legislation to extend the period for Executive formation has had to be introduced but I am aware that many people in Northern Ireland are not in favour of another Assembly election at this time.

I’ve been encouraged by my discussions with the parties but there is no doubt that the absence of a devolved government is having an impact on Northern Ireland with important legislation and public services impacted by the lack of an Executive.

My priority remains the restoration of fully-functioning power-sharing institutions and I will continue to work with the NI parties to ensure this happens as soon as possible.

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