Sinn Féin formally ratifies Stormont House Agreement

Lack of unionist leadership during failed talks last year, says Richard Haass

Sinn Féin has formally ratified the Stormont House Agreement that was concluded between the British and Irish governments and the North's five main parties

The Sinn Féin ardchomhairle met in Dublin on Monday to discuss the 14-page 75-point agreement which deals with issues such as budget matters and welfare reform, the past, parades and flags and emblems.

The agreement was finally reached on December 23rd after the British prime minister David Cameron provided grants and loan-raising facilities amounting to almost £2 billion (€2.5 billion) that would help offset the effects of welfare change and budget cuts of £1.5 billion up to 2019.

It also came after Sinn Féin agreed to sign up to welfare changes, which it had hitherto vehemently opposed. During the negotiations the parties said that more than £50 million would be found from existing Northern Executive resources to cushion some of the effects of welfare reform.

Had the talks failed, as was a distinct possibility in the run up to Christmas, it was unlikely that the Northern Executive and Assembly could have survived.

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams said after an "informed discussion" the party agreed to endorse the Stormont House Agreement. "The ardchomhairle recognised that progress has been made in defending the most vulnerable against the Tory welfare and budget cuts," he said.

“They also recognised that progress has been made with regard to the issues of flags, the past and parading. The ardchomhairle accepted that there was more to do at a community, political and national level to resolve these matters,” he added.

Mr Adams said the party remained concerned that the negotiations failed to lead to agreement on matters such as a bill of rights, an Irish language act and an inquiry into the killing of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane.

“The recent talks demonstrated that with the five main parties acting together, significant progress can be made to safeguard the most vulnerable and to rebuild the reputation of the political institutions,” he said.

"It is equally clear that the two governments have failed to implement and safeguard the agreements. The British government refused to implement a number of outstanding commitments and the Irish Government representatives complied with this," said Mr Adams.

He said Sinn Féin would actively campaign to compel the British and Irish governments to “honour and deliver on their obligations”.

Meanwhile, former US diplomat Dr Richard Haass has referred to a unionist lack of leadership during the negotiations which he chaired 12 months ago. While those talks failed the Stormont House Agreement proposals on flags, parades and the past are substantially modelled on the document produced after those negotiations.

Dr Haass, when interviewed on BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback programme on Monday, said reaching agreement on such issues required "extraordinary leadership" but "alas we simply did not have enough of it in Northern Ireland during my period there".

Asked where the leadership was lacking, he said, “I thought more than anything it was largely lacking on the unionist side. And that’s not surprising because there was a feeling that change would disadvantage them. I think the republicans and the nationalists were more willing to entertain the possibility of change.”

“But the two leading unionist parties were not and I thought that was unfortunate for them because I do think they would have been better off by the kinds of arrangements we were promoting,” he said.

“But I also thought that all the people of Northern Ireland would have been better off, particularly the survivors and victims,” said Dr Haass.