Irish backstop –
The British prime minister Boris Johnson on a visit to Stormont to meet the newly instated Northern Executive said following Thursday’s New Decade, New Approach deal that this was a “moment of hope” for Northern Ireland.
Mr Johnson was also meeting the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Parliament Building on Monday, as well as DUP First Minister Arlene Foster and Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, and members of the new Executive.
Mr Johnson when he spoke to reporters in the great hall of Parliament Buildings at lunchtime paraphrased a famous statement by former British prime minister Tony Blair ahead of the 1998 Belfast Agreement.
“Never mind the hand of history on my shoulder I see the hand of the future beckoning us all forward,” he said.
Mr Johnson praised the “wonderful” compromise from all parties in getting Stormont back up and running after a three-year political impasse.
He was accompanied by the new Sinn Féin speaker Alex Maskey when he came down the stairs of Parliament Buildings to speak to the press.
The new deal pledges substantial funding to support the new Executive so that it can deal with immediate issues such as the health workers strike, industrial action by teachers and the general health crisis.
There has been speculation that the British government would provide additional funding of £2 billion but Mr Johnson when queried would not specifically say how much was on offer.
He said he wanted to build on the “potential” of Northern Ireland. He said the British government was making “huge commitments” to Northern Ireland but would not say how much that might be in actual additional funding.
“We are listening very carefully and we will certainly do everything that we can to support (public services),” he said.
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Asked about the calamitous renewable heat incentive scheme – the report on the RHI scheme is due shortly — Mr Johnson said it was vital in future that “public spending is properly invigilated”.
And on Brexit and the prospect of checks on goods coming from Britain to Northern Ireland Mr Johnson insisted there would be no checks while also allowing that goods further destined for the Republic could face some procedures.
Mr Johnson also commended Northern Secretary Julian Smith for the work he did with Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney in striking the deal with the parties.
There had been speculation that Mr Smith could be dropped from Mr Johnson’s cabinet in a possible reshuffle soon but in answer to a reporter’s question the prime minister said the Northern Secretary had “done a great job and he certainly has a bright future”.
Mr Johnson thanked everyone who played a part in restoring the powersharing institutions.
On dealing with the legacy of the past, which is not addressed in the new agreement, Mr Johnson said he was trying to achieve a fair “balance”.
Three years after its collapse the Northern Executive and Assembly were restored on Saturday following Thursday’s night’s publication by Northern Secretary Julian Smith and Tánaiste Simon Coveney of the New Decade, New Approach deal.
That agreement addressed a wide range of issues including contentious matters such as the Irish language, ensuring the restored administration has a chance of being sustained, and amending the petition of concern — the mechanism whereby motions can be vetoed in the Assembly even if they have majority support.
The British and Irish government as part of the agreement also pledged to provide a significant cash injection to support the new administration as it got back to work.
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