DUP economy minister’s claim that boycotting Stormont has no bearing on handing over energy bills is disputed

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MPs have clashed over whether an executive is needed to unlock emergency cost-of-living payments to the public in Northern Ireland.

Economy Minister Gordon Lyons has urged the UK government to “act quickly” to include NI in the £400 energy payment scheme by delivering on a commitment made in May.

Alongside Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey and the utilities regulator, Mr Lyons met Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi in Belfast on Wednesday, where a pledge was made to offer the energy rebate to struggling NI households.

When Mr Lyons was told the operational problems with getting the payment to households here were a consequence of the DUP’s boycott of Stormont, the minister told BBC Talkback ‘no it’s not at all “.

He added: “The problems we face getting this money through have nothing to do with executive approval. The issues relate to who has legal responsibility.

Mr. Zahawi said this money can flow even if an executive is not reinstated, but he also referred to the business processes that need to be overcome.

However, the Department of Finance (DoF) and many MPs disputed this claim.

A DoF spokesperson said: ‘In terms of the Energy Bill Support Program payment, if an executive was in place, it would have been possible to receive this funding through a consequent Barnett for allocation to a local department to administer the funding.

“As there is no executive, the Treasury is working with departments at the local level to look at possible options for providing support.

“The allocation of any additional, non-earmarked funding received through a consecutive Barnett requires executive approval.”

Other MPs also weighed in, saying if an executive was in place people could be supported during the cost of living crisis.

Alliance’s Sorcha Eastwood called the economy minister’s comments “significant” and “dishonest”.

She pointed to an assembly question answered in June on how her ministry plans to deal with rising energy prices in the gas and electricity markets.

In response, he mentioned the role of devolved ministers saying: “The DfE Energy team is engaging with the Department of Finance (DoF) to understand the application of this support in Northern Ireland.

“My department continues to have an oversight role in the regulation by the Utilities Regulator (UR) of gas prices charged by dominant suppliers in the Greater Belfast and Ten Towns license areas, as well as the larger Northern Ireland electricity supplier.

“This ensures that customers pay no more than the effective costs of purchasing and delivering energy plus an agreed profit margin set by the UR.”

Last month, the Minister Delegate for Communities answered a question posed by Claire Sugden.

She asked for details on her department’s long-term plan to support low-income households facing price increases for food, goods and services.

Minister Hargey made it clear that “the absence of a functioning executive or an agreed executive budget means departments face serious challenges”.

She added: “Despite this, I am committed to doing everything in my power to put money in people’s pockets.

“I have instructed my officials to fully explore and expedite all options to address both immediate needs and medium to long term solutions to the cost of living crisis.

“I have also reconvened the emergency leadership group as part of a strategic response to the cost of living crisis,” she added.

Opposition Leader Matthew O’Toole MP said ministers for Stormont and Whitehall needed to start taking seriously the cost of living crisis facing households in Northern Ireland.

Mr O’Toole was speaking after opposition SDLP MPs met with a number of organizations in Stormont today to discuss the impact of the crisis on energy, food and fuel on northerners.

He said: “The harsh truth is that this crisis is going to get worse. Energy prices are expected to rise further, interest rates are rising and this is going to make life incredibly difficult for thousands of people.

“We heard from people with disabilities about their fears for the coming months and a difficult winter.

“We have spoken to representatives from the retail sector who are concerned about the viability of local businesses. And we have heard from unions about the low wage crisis facing workers in almost every sector.

“It is therefore staggering and frankly pathetic to hear the Minister for the Economy suggest that the failure to get help for people who need it is not linked to the lack of government in Northern Ireland. which is perpetuated by his party.”

While TUV Upper Bann spokesman Darrin Foster welcomed the chancellor’s ‘unambiguous confirmation’ that paying Westminster to help with energy costs does not require a Stormont executive.

“That, of course, was known from the start, given that the money was always going to come from Her Majesty’s Treasury.

“It does, however, cut the feet under those in politics and the media who have sought to use this issue to beat Unionists for daring to refuse to implement the protocol – which a restoration of Stormont at present would inevitably entail. .

“The Chancellor has busted the myth that decentralization is necessary for this agenda to move forward and, in truth, many Unionists question the value of having devolution.”

The Ministries of Economy and Communities have also been contacted for comments.

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