Leaders pin Stormont hopes on persuading parties to strike deal

Sinn Féin warns failure to agree pact will trigger ‘crash’ of powersharing institutions

The Stormont negotiations designed to reach agreement on a range of issues are now at a "crucial stage", said British prime minister David Cameron as he and Taoiseach Enda Kenny prepare to travel to Northern Ireland.

His comments were echoed more dramatically by Sinn Féin MP Conor Murphy who warned if a deal isn't done then the Northern Executive will "crash".

Mr Kenny and Mr Cameron arrive in Belfast on Thursday in an effort to persuade the North’s five main parties to strike a pre-Christmas deal that would avoid such collapse and that would guarantee the stability of the Northern Executive and Assembly.

Dublin and London and most of the parties remained guardedly optimistic that a deal can be done. Northern talks sources have warned however that any prospect of success depends on Mr Cameron providing some form of financial inducement that could cushion the effects of welfare reform changes and of £1.5 billion (€1.9 billion) in cuts to the Executive’s budget up to 2019.


The negotiations are expected to run late into Thursday night and resume on Friday. They are likely to focus on a tight number of issues: stabilising the North’s finances; the past; reducing the size of the Assembly and Executive; and parades and flags. Other issues such as an Irish Language Act and a Bill of Rights for the North may also feature.

Sources said that progress has been made on dealing with the past and restructuring Stormont while a solution to flags and parades remains elusive.

Opportunity available

Mr Cameron will hold out the carrot of the Executive having corporation tax-setting powers if a deal is done.

Last week First Minister Peter Robinson warned that without a deal by Christmas Stormont would fall and Mr Murphy, a Sinn Féin negotiator, effectively agreed with him.

“The implications are that the Executive can’t continue to function. You go into a crash and you go back to an election and let the public decide how the issues are resolved,” he said.

The British prime minister said he was coming in Northern Ireland as the talks reach a "crucial" stage. "That is why the UK government, along with our very close colleagues in the Irish Government, will be pushing hard to bring these discussions to a successful conclusion this week," he added in an article for today's Belfast Telegraph.

SDLP negotiator Alban Maginness, reflecting some expectations of a limited deal, said that "partial" agreement would not be acceptable. "The SDLP believe that the opportunity is now. After Christmas we will enter into an election mode and that is a real danger that that no agreement will be reached," he said.

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland Office Minister Andrew Murrison said that the "outcome of these talks will have a big impact on security in Northern Ireland and we all need to understand that".

“All parties need to understand the extent of the stakes. If this process fails, then I’m afraid the future will not look good,” he warned in the House of Commons.

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times