Belfast Telegraph

Challenges ahead, warns Villiers

Significant challenges still lie ahead for Northern Ireland's political leaders, Theresa Villiers has warned.

In a New Year message, the Northern Ireland Secretary said she hoped 2015 would be a year of "renewed confidence" but urged politicians to capitalise on the opportunities created by the new Stormont House Agreement.

Ms Villiers said: "I hope this is a year of renewed confidence for Northern Ireland: a year when politics works, the economy continues to grow and society gets stronger and more united, a place where through hard work and commitment, everyone has the opportunity to realise their potential.

"While there are significant challenges ahead, Northern Ireland's politicians showed real leadership and determination in negotiating the Stormont House Agreement.

"As a result, new opportunities await us in 2015 which I hope are grasped."

The Stormont House Agreement was forged after 11 weeks of talks culminating in a marathon 30-hour, through-the-night negotiation which ended on December 23.

It has resolved destabilising wrangles over the Stormont administration's budget and its non-implementation of welfare reforms while establishing new structures to deal with the legacy of unsolved Troubles killings, but the deal achieved less progress on other contentious matters such as disputes over the flying of flags and parading.

The Agreement, which was facilitated by a £2 billion financial package from the UK Government, has enabled ministers in Northern Ireland to balance the budget for the coming financial year.

Around £700 million of the loan will fund a major public sector restructuring reform programme, which includes a voluntary redundancy scheme aimed at re-balancing the economy which is heavily reliant on the public sector.

The Executive has also been granted the power to set its own rates of corporation tax in an effort to stimulate private sector growth and the number of Executive departments and Assembly members will be cut.

And, although the Executive still faces a hefty penalty to cover the period when welfare reforms have not been in operation, the sum has been drastically reduced from the £200 million-plus bill it was facing.

Ms Villiers added: "As we look ahead to 2015, I want to wish everyone a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year."

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