Northern Ireland

Coronavirus: Devolution could be 'blown off course' by Covid-19

Stormont Image copyright Reuters

A committee of MPs has warned about the danger of devolution "being blown off course" in Northern Ireland.

The NI Affairs Committee has called on the government to help prevent this by setting out a financial plan to deal with the fall-out from Covid-19.

It also called for a change in the working cultures at Stormont to ensure the "fragile" executive survives.

It recommends strengthening links between the other devolved legislatures by creating "fellowship schemes".

Officials should be given secondment opportunities, it suggested.

Commitments 'fell short'

The committee carried out an inquiry into the New Decade, New Approach deal, which restored the institutions at Stormont in January.

It heard concerns that the £2bn earmarked to meet the commitments of the deal "fell far short" of the sum needed to transform public services in Northern Ireland and that funding will be further stretched by the effects of Covid-19.

The committee called on the government to set out a long-term financial plan for the implementation of the agreement and to take account of the extra economic pressures caused by Covid-19.

"Recent events have exposed the fragility of the executive by showing that it doesn't take a scandal of the magnitude of RHI to blow devolution off course," said committee chairman Conservative MP Simon Hoare.

"The repercussions of Covid-19 notwithstanding, meeting the commitments enshrined in New Decade, New Approach is the only way to restore trust in the devolution settlement and its ability to deliver for the people of Northern Ireland, who have been ill served by stagnating public service provision for too long."

He said the government must provide "a realistic and long-term financial plan that recognises the challenges imposed by coronavirus".

Other recommendations include ensuring the Independent Fiscal Council is given the resources and powers to scrutinise Executive policies and facilitating meaningful high level engagement between the UK government and the executive

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