NI pact promises ‘brighter days’ ahead for North and South

Agreement hailed as ‘monumental step forward’ by DUP leader Peter Robinson

Theresa Villiers: agreement “
offers us a new start, and a far more hopeful future
”. Photograph: PA

Theresa Villiers: agreement “ offers us a new start, and a far more hopeful future ”. Photograph: PA

 

The Irish and British governments and the five Northern Executive parties have concluded an agreement that Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan has hailed as signalling “brighter days” for Northern Ireland and the Republic.

After 26 hours of continuous talks, the North’s five main parties on Tuesday afternoon effectively endorsed a 14-page, 75-point deal called the Stormont House Agreement that addresses disputed matters such as agreeing a budget and welfare reform, dealing with the legacy of the Troubles and parades, flags and emblems.

Among its proposals the agreement provides £150 million (€190 million) to support survivors and victims of the Troubles and to deal with conflict-related killings. It also allows for £500 million to support cross community projects such as shared education and £700 million to reform public sector and pay for thousands of predicted redundancies.

The deal involves all the parties, including Sinn Féin, signing up to welfare reform, which it had trenchantly opposed. DUP First Minister Peter Robinson and the Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness made clear they would endorse the document. And while reservations were expressed by the SDLP, Ulster Unionist Party and Alliance, they also indicated a willingness to agree to the proposals.

Progress

“On one of the darkest days in the bleak mid-winter we have forged a broad agreement that will undoubtedly give rise to brighter days in Belfast and throughout Northern Ireland and indeed throughout the island of Ireland,” said Mr Flanagan.

Mr Robinson said the deal was a “monumental step forward” and would be beneficial for the people of Northern Ireland. “Of course every one of us would have liked to have had a more comprehensive and complete agreement but this is as much and more than we have ever been able to do on these issues in the past,” he said. “So it is a very significant agreement.”

Mr McGuinness said the deal had the potential to give the Executive a “fresh start”, an opportunity that would be seized with “both hands”. Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, in an apparent reference to the omission of such issues as an Irish language act and an independent inquiry into the murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane, said there was still progress to be made. But he added: “There are aspects we can be proud of; it’s a good day.”

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers said the agreement “offers us a new start, and a far more hopeful future . . . For our part, we shall do all we can to see that that happens.”

Ms Villiers said that the British government could now press ahead with its commitment to devolve corporation tax-setting powers to the Northern Executive. The breakthrough was achieved following continuous negotiations that began at noon on Monday and ended about 2pm at Stormont House on the Stormont estate.

Ms Villiers was in regular contact with Downing Street and the British Treasury through Monday and the following day, with the parties adopting a united stance in seeking £2 billion in grants and loan-raising powers to sign up to the deal.

 

STORMONT HOUSE AGREEMENT

Key proposals include:

  • The creation of a Historical Investigations Unit to inquire into killings during the Troubles;
  •  A commission to enable people to privately learn how their loved ones were killed;
  • The creation of an oral history archive where experiences of the conflict could be shared;
  • A commission to report on flags within 18 months of being established;
  • Devolving responsibility for parades from the Parades Commission to the Northern Assembly;
  • Slimming the size of the Northern Assembly from 108 to 90 members by the time of the 2021 Assembly elections;
  • Reducing the number of Executive departments from 12 to 9 by the time of the 2016 Assembly elections;
  • The potential to create a formal opposition at Stormont.