Irish Republican News · December 6, 2014
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
IRISH REPUBLICAN NEWS: Talks efforts escalate ahead of Christmas deadline
Talks efforts escalate ahead of Christmas deadline

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A more intense period of negotiations is to take place at Stormont to avoid the collapse of the Six County Assembly.

No formal deadline has been set for completing the talks, but Christmas is seen as a cut-off point, after which the parties will move into full election mode ahead of next May’s Westminster poll.

Earlier this week, British chancellor George Osborne opened the possibility of a transfer of corporation tax powers to Stormont. He said it was conditional on progress in the negotiations, particularly on budgetary matters.

It means Stormont must implement highly controversial cuts to social welfare in order to reduce corporation tax to compete with the rate available in the 26 Counties, which has benefited from its reputation as a virtual tax haven for US companies.

A key part of efforts to ‘normalise’ the Six Counties has long involved luring high-profile multinational firms to the north of Ireland, most infamously in the case of the de Lorean car manufacturing fiasco.

DUP leader Peter Robinson yesterday said the next 10 days were key to the negotiations, as it is hoped they can conclude before Christmas.

“I believe if we have not broken the back of the process in that period of time it will be very difficult for it to be done before Christmas and I think everybody around here agrees that if it is not done before Christmas it will not be done before the UK general election,” the first minister said.

British Prime Minister Cameron and 26-County Taoiseach Enda Kenny are said to have ‘cleared their diaries’ for a visit to Belfast ahead of the talks’ conclusion.

The Taoiseach warned the parties that the window for a deal was narrowing, while Cameron said he was pleased at reports of a new ‘constructive’ engagement from Sinn Fein and the DUP.

“Clearly these are complex and difficult issues, and I recognise the scale of the task that lies ahead,” he said.

“The UK government will do all it can to support the parties in their efforts to reach agreement and I am satisfied that we have done so thus far.”

Speaking to reporters, Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuiness said the next five days will be crucial. He pointed out that Stormont can only be collapsed by himself, Peter Robinson or British Direct Ruler Theresa Villiers, and that he gets no sense that anyone wants to do it.

He said David Cameron needed to be a “player” in the talks rather than just a “facilitator”, and that the Tories’ “austerity agenda” was one of the main causes of Stormont’s problems.

He said the British government had failed to recognise the “very special pressures and circumstances that exist in the north of Ireland” which do not exist in the rest of the UK.

Sinn Fein negotiator Conor Murphy went further, accusing the British government of ditching its role as neutral observer in favour of pushing its own agenda, which he said chimed with that of the DUP.

“The British government has adopted a pro-unionist, partisan approach in a bid to keep the DUP onside with an eye to the next British general election,” the Newry and Armagh MP said.

BAD LANGUAGE

But overall, the mood of statements is more upbeat than last week, when the talks appeared to be on the verge of collapse following angry exchanges between the DUP and Sinn Fein over Sinn Fein’s political proposals.

Mocking the Irish language, the DUP’s Gregory Campbell said his party would use Sinn Fein’s talks agenda as “toilet paper”. In response, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams described unionist ‘bigots’ as “b*stards” and said the his party would use the issue of equality as a “trojan horse” to being about greater change in the north. Mr Adams was subsequently informed of a loyalist death threat against him.

This week, Irish language activists delivered a letter to Stormont calling for the introduction of an Irish Language Act -- a pledge given in 2006 St Andrews Agreement which led to the restoration of devolution.

According to Janet Muller of Pobal, the last census showed there are 185,000 people in the Six Counties with a knowledge of Irish, almost 11 per cent of the population.

However, a legal bid to over-turn a council block on putting Irish words in signage for a street in a nationalist area of Belfast was rejected by the High Court.

The decision was described as “disappointing” by Pobal, who said it again showed the need for legislation to set out clearly in law what the obligations on councils are in promoting the use of Irish in signage.

“For a significant number of Irish-speakers in Northern Ireland, Irish is their language of choice, which they use every day in the home, in the neighbourhood, in social activities and in the workplace,” said Ms Muller.

“In addition, Irish is an rich, ancient language with a treasury of literature.”

The Pobal representative said the Irish language was recognised by the European Union and in “significant clauses of the Good Friday Agreement”.

“It is apparent, unfortunately, that all this is insufficient to protect the language from uninformed attacks or from negative, sectarian policies and decisions,” she said.

© 2014 Irish Republican News