The continued functioning of public services including the health service and schools in Northern Ireland will be under threat if a new power-sharing agreement is not agreed soon, the secretary of state for Northern Ireland has warned, as he outlined plans to set local taxes from Westminster.
Speaking to the House of Commons on Tuesday after the involved parties missed the legal deadline to form a new executive yesterday, James Brokenshire said the civil service will be given powers to allocate cash to Northern Irish departments as an interim measure from tomorrow.
However, he added:
This situation is not sustainable and beyond a short period of time will have an impact on public service. What we are talking about here is the health service, schools, voluntary groups and services for the most vulnerable in society. This isn’t what people voted for on March 2.
Mr Brokenshire said “we do not want to see a return to direct rule” in Northern Ireland, but reiterated his view that there is “little public appetite” for a second election.
He said “should the talks fail in their objectives the government will have to consider all options”, and outlined plans to directly set a regional rate after parliament’s Easter recess. The regional rate, which will “enable local councils to carry out their functions” and “provide further assurance around the budget”, is usually set by the Northern Irish Assembly.
Mr Brokenshire said the failure to reach an agreement so far “is a source of deep disappointment and regret to me and many” others, and added that it will “do all that we can to get devolved government back up on its feet again”.