Political news

Stormont deal agreed to resolve power-sharing crisis

 The making of a deal at Stormont Castle

THE British and Dublin governments have announced that a power-sharing deal to salvage the north's crisis-hit power-sharing administration been reached.

The agreement endorsed by Sinn Fein, the DUP and both governments was struck after almost 10 weeks of negotiations at Stormont House in Belfast.

A range of disputes, including the fallout from a murder linked to the IRA and an acute budgetary crisis over non-implementation of welfare reforms, had pushed the coalition Executive towards the verge of collapse.

The agreement is laid out in a document called 'A Fresh Start: The Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan' and runs to 67 pages.

The deal has found a way to resolve the budgetary crisis caused by the long-running failure to adopt welfare changes.

A motion which would give Westminster the power to enact the controversial changes to the benefits system will be debated during a specially convened plenary session in the Stormont Assembly on Wednesday.

The fallout from the killing of former IRA man Kevin McGuigan was also on the agenda during the 10-week talks process and a new panel is being set up to examine the ongoing scourge of paramilitarism. It is understood the four representatives will be selected by the Stormont Executive and both governments.

However, there has been no agreement over how to deal with the legacy of the north's troubled past and the impasse between Sinn Fein and the British Government over the disclosure of official documents to proposed truth-recovery bodies remains unresolved.

Among the key reforms in the deal are:

  • An additional £500 million from the Exchequer to tackle issues unique to the north, including efforts on the removal of peace walls.
  • Devolving corporation tax powers to bring in a 12.5 per cent rate in line with the south.
  • Fresh obligations on the NI parties to work together to end the presence of paramilitarism.
  • Concerted efforts to target organised and cross-border crime.
  • Measures to address the issue of flags and parades.
  • Reform of the Stormont Assembly including its size, the number of departments and the use of petitions of concern as a form of opposition.

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said: "This deal means that Northern Ireland's finances can be put back on a sustainable footing, ending the long-standing dispute over the budget.

"There will be a fresh emphasis on tackling paramilitarism and organised crime and clear declaration that such activity will never be tolerated.

"And there will be reforms of the Executive and Assembly to make devolution work better.

"Today's agreement is another step towards the government's goal of building a brighter, more secure future for all the people of Northern Ireland."

 

 

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said his party would not be "bounced or bullied" into signing up to the proposals. "The SDLP will assess and interrogate the DUP/Sinn Fein proposals," he said.

He said they were presented to the party less than an hour before a meeting of the Stormont Executive was called on Tuesday afternoon to discuss them.

"We will not rush to judgment but our judgment will be clear and certain.

"The SDLP and the Alliance Party were given less than 60 minutes to read a DUP/Sinn Fein document over 60 pages long. We were then expected to enter an Executive meeting and sign up. That is no way to get an all-party agreement.

"The absence of comprehensive proposals on the past is a very serious failure," he said.

But US secretary of state John Kerry welcomed the deal.

"The United States welcomes the announcement today of an agreement among Northern Ireland's political parties to strengthen Northern Ireland's devolved institutions," he said.

"Northern Ireland's party leaders deserve credit for the considerable work and political courage they demonstrated to resolve difficult budgetary issues, implement institutional reforms outlined by the Stormont House Agreement, and develop a framework to counter residual paramilitaries.

"I commend the UK and Irish governments for patiently and steadfastly facilitating this successful outcome."

Mr Kerry urged "all of Northern Ireland's political leaders to support and fully implement this agreement".

"It was carefully constructed to deliver better and sustainable governance, as well as to advance Northern Ireland's peace process for the benefit of all the people of the region," he said.

"I strongly encourage the UK and Irish governments and all the parties to continue their vital work to deal effectively with the past by creating the institutions set out in the Stormont House Agreement.

"The United States will provide continued political support for Northern Ireland's peace process and for implementation of this accord. Moreover, my personal representative, Senator Gary Hart (Retired), will continue his deep engagement in support of a peaceful and prosperous Northern Ireland." 

 

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