DUP and Sinn Fein like a divorcing couple, says Long

The DUP and Sinn Fein are like a divorcing couple, angrily storming off while abandoning their children, Alliance Leader Naomi Long has said.

Mrs Long was speaking after a meeting with Secretary of State James Brokenshire, in which she laid out her party’s belief the people of Northern Ireland would suffer the most under the current deepening crisis and urged him to take the necessary steps to protect public finances during any dissolution or suspension.

“The DUP and Sinn Fein resemble a squabbling couple seeking a divorce, who have angrily stormed off and left their children at home with no food or water,” said Mrs Long.

“There is no question we are in a deepening crisis, brought on by those two parties and exacerbated by their actions. They seem not to have considered the impact of their stand-off on the people they represent. Even in the last 24 hours, we have been focusing our attention on the impact of any dissolution of the Assembly or any suspension on the governance of Northern Ireland.

“This comes at a time when there are a number of crucial budgetary and legislative issues which must be addressed to avoid a serious financial crisis. We have already identified a number of issues which could lead to significant problems in our public finances and public services if the Assembly is dissolved or suspended in the next few weeks, unless the Secretary of State addresses them through emergency legislation at Westminster.

“Among them, the inability of the Assembly to set a regional rate could cause serious disruption to local and central government services, as it is not clear LPS would have any authority to collect the district rate only. Whilst the emergency budget processes allow civil servants to draw down 75 per cent of the block grant, it is not clear they would have authority to draw down and allocate other accrued funding, such as from the EU, placing things like single farm payments at risk.

“In addition, the legislation which allows a £275 million subsidy to be paid to NI Water is about to expire. Unless it is renewed, that money cannot be paid, leaving them without the ability to fund water and sewerage services and pay staff. A number of Departments, including Health and Education, are already facing gaping holes in their budgets and could not survive a cut of 25 per cent even in the short-term without losing staff and incurring major disruption to service.

“We are not in Government, but we are taking our responsibilities to the electorate more seriously than any party in the current Executive has done. Whilst an election appears unavoidable at this stage, we are working to ensure the actions which need to be taken to protect the best interests of the people we serve are the main priority over the coming days.”

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