British and Irish governments to publish text on restoring Stormont next week
Simon Coveney promises cash injection to support a reinstated Northern Assembly
The DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson, Arlene Foster and Emma Little Pengelly meet with Northern Secretary Julian Smith at Stormont House, Belfast. Photograph: Presseye/PA Wire
The British and Irish governments will next week publish a text of what they believe is the basis for an agreement to restore the Northern Executive and Assembly, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said last night.
“People are in no doubt that we are in the endgame of what has been a very long process” to reinstate the powersharing institutions which collapsed three years ago, he said.
He also promised a cash injection from the Irish Government over the coming years to assist a reformed Stormont as it sought to find its feet.
Mr Coveney made it clear that regardless of the state of the negotiations that next week he and Northern Secretary Julian Smith would present the parties with their best read of what would be a deal that all five main parties could live with or acquiesce to.
“We need to make a little bit more progress before the governments are ready essentially to present the parties with what we regard as a foundation document for the re-establishment of an Executive, and effectively turn the lights on in Stormont again.
“I don’t think any one party will read this and say, ‘If I was going to write it this is what it would look like’. There are compromises required from everybody in order to make this work,” he told The Irish Times.
“At some point next week we hope to have had sufficient discussion; we hope to have created consensus around enough areas for the governments to be confident that if they table a text they can get agreement on it,” he added.
He said the Government was prepared to provide finance over the coming years to support infrastructural projects such as the A5 road linking Aughnacloy in Co Tyrone to Derry city and into Co Donegal; helping create a high-speed rail link between Belfast and Dublin; and assisting educational and other projects. “This is about creating goodwill but also about generating economic development and improving relationships North and South, and trying to create better connectivity on the island as a whole,” he said.
Meanwhile, the mood among the parties remained positive last night, with the DUP, Sinn Féin and the SDLP each stressing their commitment to reaching an agreement to restore the North’s powersharing government.
Speaking to the media after the first of two roundtable meetings yesterday chaired by Mr Smith and Mr Coveney, Sinn Féin’s chief negotiator, Conor Murphy, said he believed a deal could be done “in short order”.
“We don’t see any need to run this down to the wire on January 13th in some kind of dramatic way,” he said. “The issues that we have been dealing with are well rehearsed, but what we need now is political will.”
Mr Murphy said that some key issues to be resolved related to the Irish language, the petition of concern, a programme for government and a financial injection from the British government for public services.
Mr Smith has given the parties until January 13th to reach a deal. The DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson cautioned against rushing to do a deal too quickly. “We are not in the business of snatching at something because there is a deadline,” he said.
While the DUP wanted a deal done “as quickly as possible”, it also wanted “to ensure that the agreement is fair and balanced, that it is sustainable”.
Mr Donaldson said his party had been engaged in “very constructive” discussions on the outstanding issues and there was a “willingness on the part of all the parties to see this over the line”. Yesterday’s negotiations, he said, gave the DUP “a better understanding of what they need [and] I think they too have a better understanding of our concerns”. He said he was hopeful a consensus could be reached to secure the restoration of the Assembly. “All roads lead back to Stormont,” he said.