Irish Republican News · December 24, 2014
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Stormont talks deal gets over the line


A partial agreement in multi-party talks has ensured that the Six-County political institutions will continue to operate next year.

The agreed text, officially the ‘Stormont House Agreement’, means controversial cuts to social welfare are set to be implemented in the New Year, but there has been no agreement on parading and flags, an Irish language act, nor a bill of rights.

New structures have been agreed for dealing with the past, but there was no reference in the document to specific cases or inquiries, such as the Pat Finucane assassination.

However, the parties have agreed steps towards updating the workings of the Stormont Assembly in the hope of improving public perception of the body.

The most controversial issues have been deferred for another day, with a commission for dealing with flags, identity, culture and tradition not due to report until December 2016.

On parades, there is an agreed aspiration “in principle” that powers for marches and related protests should be devolved to the assembly.

An independent Historical Investigations Unit (HIU), overseen by the Policing Board, will be established to undertake investigations into outstanding conflict-related deaths, taking over from the Historical Enquiries Team and the Police Ombudsman. Inquests will continue as a separate process.

Enhanced services for victims and survivors are expected, including a ‘Mental Trauma Service’ for victims and survivors Service.

A number of the commissions, panels and committees discussed under the Haass process last year have been revived and included in the document. The most significant of these is the Independent Commission on Information Retrieval (ICIR), which will allow victims and survivors to privately receive information about conflict-related deaths. It will have the ability to grant limited immunity to those who come forward with information with the assurance that their revelations cannot be used against them in a court of law.

A mishmash of new funding for various projects, including funds to address the past conflict, is conditional on controversial welfare cuts being passed in the early Spring.

The agreed financial package should also allow the devolution from London to Stormont of corporation tax powers, to compete with the incentives offered by the 26 County state.

But overall, there was a broad sense among political commentators that the talks had become dominated by a Tory cost-cutting agenda and had failed to address the root problems in the north of Ireland.

The Alliance Party leader David Ford said the deal was not the “comprehensive agreement” people wanted and raised concerns about unresolved issues.

SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell also said the deal was not “comprehensive” and the party will canvass its members before endorsing the document.

Ulster Unionist leader, Mike Nesbitt, however, welcomed the “transformational” financial package which he said had finally secured the future of the Six County administration.

TUV leader Jim Allister said the deal did not address the “fundamental flaws” in the north’s political institutions.

“There is still no requirement for parties to be agreed about anything before they go into government together,” he said. “Until that issue Is addressed Northern Ireland will be condemned to never-ending make or break talks.”

Sinn Fein’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness hailed the deal as a “fresh start”.

“We have always been very positive and constructive in every negotiation we have been involved in and we are going to continue to do that and we are going to continue to ensure that the implementation of what we have agreed gets our best efforts and gets a result for the most important people of all -- the people who are out on the streets crying for leadership from the politicians,” he said.

First Minister Peter Robinson said the agreement was good news for both communities. “The important thing about the document is it is not an agenda for nationalists or republicans or for unionists,” he said.

“It is an agenda for better government in Northern Ireland, a better way to do things in Northern Ireland.”

Taoiseach Enda Kenny praised the parties for their “courage” in reaching an agreement.

“Its full implementation will mean that the people of Northern Ireland can look to that brighter future together, with hope and confidence,” he said.

British prime minister David Cameron said the agreement will allow the north to “enjoy a brighter, more prosperous future, while at the same time finally being able to deal with its past”.

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