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No Levelling Up Money for Northern Ireland Due to Stormont Collapse

Northern Ireland has not been allocated any money from a £1bn funding scheme because of Stormont’s collapse, the UK government has said.

The Department for Levelling Up announced funding for 55 projects across Great Britain.

It said no money has been provided to Northern Ireland “at this time” because of the absence of an executive and assembly.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) branded the move “economic blackmail”.

The party has been blocking a restoration of Northern Ireland’s power-sharing institutions in protest against post-Brexit trade barriers between the region and Great Britain.

Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove said the funding announced on Monday would “create new jobs and opportunities, power economic growth, and revitalise local areas”.

His department confirmed no funding had been allocated to Northern Ireland.

“In Northern Ireland, given the current absence of a working executive and assembly, the government is not proceeding with this round of the Levelling Up Fund at this time,” it said.

“We will continue to work closely with projects and places in Northern Ireland that were awarded a total of £120m in the first two rounds of the fund.”

‘Unacceptable decision’

DUP MP Sammy Wilson described the Conservative Party government’s move as “outrageous”.

He said the absence of a Stormont Executive “has no material effect on the allocations”.

“Under the cloak of economic blackmail, the government has syphoned money away from Northern Ireland to shore up Conservative seats in England,” he added.

“Despite being entitled to 3% of the £1bn Northern Ireland has not received a single penny from this round of allocations despite there being hundreds of suitable applications in the system.

“Northern Ireland should have had an allocation of at least £30m today.”

‘Reckless boycott’

Sinn Féin assembly member Conor Murphy also criticised the move by the UK government.

“This is yet another cynical attack on ordinary people,” Mr Murphy said.

“Workers and families continue to pay the price for one party’s reckless boycott of the executive.”

Claire Hanna from the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) accused the DUP of “economically blackmailing” Northern Ireland by continuing to block the return of power-sharing at Stormont.

“This is just the latest consequence of that,” she told the BBC’s Evening Extra programme.

“Of course, there’s two of them in it – the Conservative government don’t ever need an excuse to under-invest in our region but the DUP have given them that cover on this particular fund.”

The South Belfast MP added that Northern Ireland was in a “terrible mess” due to the lack of devolved government.

“I think they [the DUP] either need to decide if they have any interest in making the region work, or if not, signal that intent and allow us to look at other options.”

Levelling Up is a regional development plan aimed at improving economic performance outside south-east England.

Ulster Unionist Party assembly member Andy Allen said he would write to Mr Gove pressing for the “unacceptable” funding decision to be “reversed”.

“This decision by the UK government is yet another example of the people of Northern Ireland being punished for a situation not of their making,” he said.

NI’s £30m ‘set aside’

Alliance MP Stephen Farry said the government’s reasons for excluding Northern Ireland did not “stack up”.

Speaking in the House of Commons, he questioned if Northern Ireland’s expected share of the round three funding would be ringfenced so it could be distributed at some later date.

Responding for the government Jacob Young, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Levelling Up, confirmed the money has been ringfenced.

Although he did not provide any timescale for when it could be released, Mr Young said: “The £30m that would have been spent in this round has been set aside for levelling up in Northern Ireland.”

Stormont’s power-sharing government has not been functioning since last year after the DUP withdrew in protest against post-Brexit trade barriers under the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The Windsor Framework was struck by the UK government and European Union earlier this year in an effort to address concerns with the protocol.

But the DUP has said the deal does not go far enough.

It has been in talks with the government to seek further legal assurances of Northern Ireland’s place within the UK internal market.

Source : BBC