Derry MLA to table bill to help struggling families in Assembly today

SDLP Communities Spokesperson Mark H Durkan said he will attempt to introduce legislation in the Assembly today, Monday aiming to unlock support for struggling families.

By Brendan McDaid
Monday, 14th March 2022, 8:12 am

Mr Durkan said he has been meeting with representatives from all five main parties and “working collaboratively across the weekend” to seek cross party support to introduce emergency legislation to unlock financial support.

The Derry politician said he has been supported by all parties to explore if legislation can be introduced and will today seek formal support from the Speaker’s office for introduction.

The Foyle MLA said: “People right across the North – working families, pensioners and those on welfare – are on their knees. Our communities are crying out for support to deal with the rising cost of everything from food to fuel. Energy bills are going up by the week and petrol prices by the day. People are looking to us to step in and help them and we have an obligation to do everything in our power to protect people from the worst aspects of this crisis.

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Foyle SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan.

“We are in a very serious situation and we need political leadership to get us through it. We have £300m sitting there doing nothing because there is no Executive. The easiest way to resolve this is for the DUP to nominate a First Minister to restore the Executive but with time ticking down we certainly can’t bank on that. We need to use all routes open to us to help people now.

“In the absence of an Executive the SDLP has drafted an emergency bill to allow for emergency financial support to be provided to people who are currently struggling with rising costs. The bill as drafted allows for powers under the Financial Assistance Act (Northern Ireland) 2009 to be exercised by Ministers, in the absence of a First or Deputy First Minister, with Assembly authority for prescribed emergency payments. It does not and cannot substitute the need for a budget and the need for the Executive to be formed to allow for a budget.

Mr Durkan said that without a functioning Executive, emergency payments related directly to devolved powers and responsibilities can be made.

“I am sincerely grateful to parties for engaging quickly and constructively with the SDLP. I welcome their support to explore if this emergency legislation can be introduced and I am continuing to work with parties daily on any drafting or other queries they have.

“I recognise time is short, but that is not a reason to simply sit on our hands, do nothing, and tell our communities sorry, ‘there’s nothing we can do’. This legislation provides a pathway to putting money in the pockets of those who need it.

“Today I will table the bill with the Speakers office and then the SDLP will seek to engage formally with whips and the business office to move the mountains required to find time in this mandate.

“This is the moment for us to step up, put politics to one side and put people first. We cannot abandon our communities to deal with this on their own. I’m urging every party to come together this week and exhaust every effort and every avenue available to get this money out to help families deal with this crisis.”