Executive Office: Priorities

Oral Answers to Questions — The Executive Office – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:00 pm on 19 February 2024.

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Photo of Alex Easton Alex Easton Independent 2:00, 19 February 2024

1. Mr Easton asked the First Minister and deputy First Minister to outline their Department's priorities for the rest of this financial year. (AQO 3/22-27)

Photo of Gerry Kelly Gerry Kelly Sinn Féin

10. Mr Kelly asked the First Minister and deputy First Minister to outline their priorities now the Executive have been restored. (AQO 2/22-27)

Photo of Michelle O'Neill Michelle O'Neill Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. With your permission, I will answer questions 1 and 10 together.

Priorities from the last mandate remain important to us. We will bring forward the 'Ending Violence against Women & Girls' strategic framework and press ahead with the important programme of work on mother-and-baby institutions, Magdalene laundries and workhouses. Those are crucial issues, but they are set against the backdrop of a very difficult financial position. The Executive's most immediate priority is the stabilisation of public finances, and we are in ongoing communication with Treasury and the Prime Minister and are calling for our public finances to be placed on a sustainable footing.

We are in the process of developing and agreeing an immediate set of priorities for the Executive, and we will, of course, update the Assembly in due course.

Photo of Alex Easton Alex Easton Independent

I thank the First Minister for her answer. What is the Executive Office's assessment of the revenue-raising in Northern Ireland that is required to meet those targets? What does it mean for the central good relations fund?

Photo of Michelle O'Neill Michelle O'Neill Sinn Féin

There is no doubt that, while we work towards our Programme for Government and immediate priorities, of which there are many to deal with, it is important that we get the basics right with the fiscal framework. That is why we have identified that, and I am delighted that we enjoy cross-party support to make the case for a proper financial arrangement here. That is ongoing work, and it will, obviously, have implications for how we fund all the programmes that we have, whether in the Executive Office or across the other Departments.

I have no doubt that, over the course of time, we will have much more to say to the Member about what that actual budget looks like, particularly as we develop next year's Budget.

Photo of Gerry Kelly Gerry Kelly Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle, agus gabhaim buíochas leis an Chéad-Aire as ucht a freagraí go dtí seo. Thank you, Mr Speaker, and I thank the First Minister for her answers so far. She talked about laying out the priorities. What is the impact on those priorities of the continuation of Tory austerity?

Photo of Michelle O'Neill Michelle O'Neill Sinn Féin

Again, there is no escaping the fact that Tory austerity has badly damaged our public services. The Executive have clearly outlined serious concerns with our current financial situation. We are funded below need, but, as I said, I am glad that all Ministers are united and speak with one voice on the fact that we need to be properly funded. The Executive have written to the Government and the Treasury to call for a discussion on a long-term funding stability plan. We need to have an urgent, ongoing discussion with Treasury, because it is critical that we are given the right resources so that we can put our finances on a more stable footing. We have to get that fundamental right.

Photo of Paula Bradshaw Paula Bradshaw Alliance

First Minister, will you outline the timeline for the recruitment of a permanent secretary to the Executive Office, please?

Photo of Michelle O'Neill Michelle O'Neill Sinn Féin

I do not have the detail of that process, but it is under way. I am happy to confirm that in writing to the new Chair of the Committee. I wish you well in your role.

Photo of Paul Frew Paul Frew DUP

If the First Minister is truly a First Minister for all, will she meet the COVID-19 vaccine injured and bereaved?

Photo of Michelle O'Neill Michelle O'Neill Sinn Féin

I am happy to meet anybody who writes in and requests a meeting. It is important that, regardless of whether we agree or disagree on things, we are able to have conversations.

Photo of Doug Beattie Doug Beattie UUP

First Minister, will you outline your proposals for the setting up of a transformation delivery unit?

Photo of Michelle O'Neill Michelle O'Neill Sinn Féin

That is still in development. We are working our way through the detail of it. It is important — I think that your colleague raised concerns about this — that it is open to all Ministers so that everybody has access to it. It is under policy development, but the House will have a chance to scrutinise what is being proposed.

Photo of Matthew O'Toole Matthew O'Toole Social Democratic and Labour Party

First Minister, notwithstanding the current debate and discussions around the fiscal package, Executive parties have been in discussions around developing a Programme for Government for, I think, around 18 months now in a parallel process to other talks. Can you give us a date for when the Programme for Government will be published?

Photo of Michelle O'Neill Michelle O'Neill Sinn Féin

I assure you that it is just in the past two weeks that we have been formally around the table discussing a Programme for Government. We will bring that forward as quickly as possible for scrutiny in the Chamber. Prior to the restoration of the Executive, there were numerous conversations with the head of the Civil Service around priorities and what things potentially would look like, but that is no substitute for an official Programme for Government, which we are working our way through. I hope to be able, in the coming weeks, to talk in the Chamber about that at length.