Rishi Sunak has promised to provide £600 energy support payments for Northern Ireland households this winter in an attempt to allay fears of lengthy delays.
The prime minister said in Belfast that the government would soon give details about the stalled disbursement. “What I can say is we will be making an announcement very soon about how that is going to be delivered. But it will be delivered this winter. For many people it will be delivered faster than for others in Great Britain.”
Sunak was speaking to reporters on the second day of a two-day visit to Northern Ireland, his first as prime minister. Concerns over energy payments and political deadlock overshadowed his announcement of a revival in shipbuilding.
Northern Ireland households already benefit from the energy-price guarantee, worth about £900 for a typical family. The long-promised £600 energy support is in addition to that because of Northern Ireland’s reliance on heating oil.
“We have been working on it, we want to get that support to people, we recognise it is important,” said Sunak. “It is a great example of why we do need the executive back up and running.”
Michelle O’Neill, Sinn Féin’s putative first minister, said people needed clarity about the energy support. “No more delays. Temperatures have fallen well below zero degrees and people are freezing cold. People should have had this money long before Christmas.”
Naomi Long, the Alliance leader, said energy firms had said that some households may need to wait until June for the payment.
The prime minister met leaders of the region’s five main parties for informal talks on Thursday night. They all posed for a smiling group portrait but there was no sign of a break in the political stalemate.
The DUP leader, Jeffrey Donaldson, reiterated this week that the party would not restore power-sharing until its concerns over post-Brexit checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain were addressed.
The foreign secretary, James Cleverly, and the European Commission vice-president, Maroš Šefčovič, met in Brussels on Thursday to discuss negotiations about the protocol.
Sunak played down the prospect of a deal before Christmas. “I have not put a strict deadline on the talks and I don’t want to raise people’s expectations of an imminent breakthrough. What I can tell you is I am very committed to resolving this issue.”