LONDON (Reuters) – The British government outlined a budget for Northern Ireland on Monday for the first time in a decade in a major step toward imposing direct rule after attempts to form a power-sharing government in Belfast collapsed.
There is a risk the civil service could run out of money unless the British government passes the bill in Westminster before the end of the month, Britain’s minister for the region James Brokenshire told parliament.
“Without further action there are risks that the civil service would simply run out of resources,” he said. “No government could simply stand by and allow that to happen.”
Irish Nationalists Sinn Fein and the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) have shared power in Northern Ireland for a decade under the terms of the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement, which ended three decades of violence that killed 3,600 people.
But Sinn Fein pulled out in January, complaining it was not being treated as an equal partner.
The latest attempts to form a power-sharing government in Belfast collapsed earlier this month when Brokenshire said he had no choice but to set a budget, a step towards direct rule from London.
Many in the province fear direct rule would further destabilise a political balance between pro-British unionists and Irish nationalists that has already been upset by Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.
Sinn Fein’s leader in Northern Ireland Michelle O‘Neill reiterated on Monday that the move to introduce a budget meant that “this phase of the talks are over” and she called for the governments in Dublin and London to intervene.
DUP leader Arlene Foster said on Sunday she hoped Sinn Fein would return to the table and reach a deal “as soon as possible”.
Reporting by Andrew MacAskill; Editing by Peter Graff