THE refusal of political leaders to return to Stormont and accept a substantial financial package for public sector workers has been branded “disappointing” and “regretful” by the Northern Ireland Secretary.
In a statement made this morning, as 100,000 public sectors workers across the North walked out over pay, Chris Heaton-Harris blamed the warring political parties for not taking up the offer.
“Today’s strike will be disruptive for people across Northern Ireland,” Mr Heaton-Harris said.
“I understand the serious concerns that people across Northern Ireland have about the impact this action will have on vital public services,” he added.
“While public sector pay is devolved, the UK government has offered a fair and generous package worth over £3billion which would address public sector pay and provides more than £1billion to stabilise public services.
“This will require Ministers being back to work in Stormont so that decisions on governing can be taken in the round.”
There has been no working Executive at Stormont since 2022, when the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) refused to return to power-sharing following the Assembly election in protest over post-Brexit trade agreements they believe to be detrimental to the North.
Despite amendments made to the Brexit deal since then, including an updated Windsor Framework solution, and a series of crisis talks held between the British Government and party leaders in the North, the DUP remain steadfast in their refusal to return to Stormont.
During talks in December, Mr Heaton-Harris promised Northern Ireland a £3billion financial package to invest on local issues if and when the Executive is reinstated.
That offer has yet to be taken up and a last-ditch attempt to reinstate the power-sharing institutions in the North yesterday failed when the DUP refused to support a motion to elect a speaker for the Assembly.
Mr Heaton-Harris believes the widespread action being experienced in the North today, which has seen schools closed, bus, train and ferry services halted and widespread disruption across health and local council services, could have been avoided.
“I am deeply disappointed that the significant funding offer from the UK Government to address [these] issues has not been taken up,” he said.
“This package has been on the table since before Christmas and will remain there, available on day one for an incoming Northern Ireland Executive.”
He added: “It is regrettable that the NI parties were unable to come together yesterday to elect a speaker and restore the executive.
“The people of Northern Ireland deserve local political leadership from representatives they have elected to govern on their behalf.
“The UK Government has made a significant offer that would help address the challenges facing public sector pay and Northern Ireland’s finances.
“It is time for the NI Parties to take decisions on how they will best serve the interests of the people of Northern Ireland.”
As well as picket lines and protests, a number of large parades are due to take place across the North, including in Belfast, Derry, Fermanagh and Omagh, during today’s 24-hour strike.
Despite members of the force due to be on strike, the PSNI has confirmed they will have a “visible presence” at all protests.
Police Gold Commander Temporary Assistant Chief Constable, Melanie Jones said: “We will have a visible presence at parades and picket lines in towns and cities across Northern Ireland.
“We are there to monitor crowds, minimise disruption and to keep everyone safe.”
She added: “I want to reassure the public that we have clear plans, command structures and highly capable officers in place across the country who have significant experience carrying out this type of public safety operation.
“Within the Police Service itself, it is likely that a number of my Police Service colleagues will participate in the industrial action.
“We have planned for this and arrangements are in place to mitigate any risk in critical functions. I want to reassure the public that we have the resources in place to allow us to keep people safe.”