Analysis: NI funding line in sight once all agree price is right

Success of negotiations may eventually come down to how much offered by British PM

 Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson: noted that the longer the talks went on, the “crankier” politicians became. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson: noted that the longer the talks went on, the “crankier” politicians became. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

 

Peter Robinson said he felt like a “marathon runner who at the end of 20-odd miles has the stadium in sight”. But, in the same breath, he added: “Whether we reach the line, only the next number of hours will tell.”

He also noted that the longer the talks went on, the “crankier” politicians became, so nothing could be taken for granted.

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers also got in her caveats, saying the talks were sometimes subject to “irrational bounces of optimism”.

Still, as the night wore on at the grand Stormont estate in east Belfast, the mood was good. At the time of writing, failure rather than success would have been the surprising outcome.

Then again, this time last year there was a mood of confidence as the parties negotiated through much of Christmas week and up to New Year’s Eve on the Haass proposals. In the end, they could not get it nailed. This time, however, the prospects appeared more propitious.

It has indeed been a long 11 weeks of negotiations and, as Villiers said, politicians have been chipping away at the big issues since long before the Haass talks last year.

Financial persuasion

They also tried to close the gaps on such issues as whether inquests and big cases – the Ballymurphy Massacre and the Pat Finucane murder, for example – should be incorporated into new structures that would deal with the past.

A big development that almost crept in under the radar was Sinn Féin signing up to British welfare reform, a proposal it has previously fought to the point of jeopardising the Northern Executive and Assembly.

In fact, various protagonists, from Taoiseach Enda Kenny to Peter Robinson, have alleged that Martin McGuinness had wanted to do a deal on welfare change but was overruled by Gerry Adams because the party might be seen as supporting austerity measures in the North but not in the South.

Sinn Féin has vehemently denied such claims.

Reasonable defence

The talks also proved the truth of the axiom that nothing is wasted. The document written last year by former US diplomat Richard Haass provided a strong foundation for the big issues of parades, the past and flags in these talks chaired by Villiers and Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan. The “I can’t believe it’s not Haass” gag running at Stormont stands up well.

For example, a recent draft of the talks document included a proposed unit that would replace the disbanded Historical Enquiries Team and investigate Troubles-related killings.

A flags, identity, culture and tradition commission is also proposed, which would report in 18 months, conveniently after the Assembly elections in May 2016. On parades, a two-tiered system is suggested to replace the Parades Commission.

All of this, or variations thereof, was incorporated in last year’s Haass document. The add-on this time is the Cameron financial package to offset cuts that will hit the North in the next five years.

That all seemed a reasonable trade-off to crack the substantial deal that Northern Ireland badly needs: cuts, and a package to offset the cuts.