Northern Ireland funding ‘not enough’ says Paisley

Ian Paisley is in further talks with Tony Blair, as the prime minister presses for a decision on Northern Ireland’s future ahead of Monday’s deadline.

The DUP leader met with senior party members last night to discuss power sharing, but failed to reach an agreement.

Northern Ireland secretary Peter Hain has warned Mr Paisley devolution will be suspended indefinitely unless the DUP and Sinn Fein agree to form a power sharing executive by midnight on March 26th.

The chancellor Gordon Brown yesterday promised a £36 billion package for Northern Ireland on the condition devolution goes ahead. However, speaking at the annual conference of the Federation of Small Business, Mr Paisley said Mr Brown’s package was “not enough”.

Nothing in the package, which includes additional funds of infrastructure and plans for job creation, will lead to a “step change” in the economy, Mr Paisley said, which is necessary to close the gap with the rest of the UK.

The DUP executive meets on Saturday and it is hoped it will agree to a power sharing deal, with Mr Paisley as first minister and Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuiness as deputy first minister.

Although both the prime minister and Mr Hain have insisted Monday’s deadline stands, Mr Hain has now suggested a ‘settling in period’ may be possible before the executive assumes full power.

However, the DUP is under increased pressure to confirm its support for power sharing by Monday. Downing Street said it understands it is difficult to make decisions, “but it was now time to call on the parties of Northern Ireland to make those decisions, and it was right that they should do so”.

The prime minister’s official spokesman confirmed March 26th is “the day for either dissolution or devolution”.

It is understood American president George Bush is now also calling on the parties to reach a deal. A White House spokesman confirmed the president has spoken to both Mr Paisley and Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and urged them to reach an agreement.

Mr Bush praised the steps taken so far to advance the peace process and called on the two leaders to “work together to build a future of peace and prosperity for the people of Northern Ireland”.