Belfast Telegraph

David Cameron offers billion pound financial package - if Northern Ireland politicians can agree a deal

"The most amateurish ham fisted episode I have ever been involved in," says Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams

The Prime Minister David Cameron has left Stormont cross-party political talks saying that no deal is possible at the moment.

Speaking outside Stormont House on Friday morning he said he offered a financial package amounting to £1billion but that it would only be made available to the Executive if an agreement was reached on the current political deadlock.

The package was tabled alongside an amended Heads of Agreement document - outlining the state of negotiations on all of the issues - presented by David Cameron and Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny in the early hours of this morning.

Talks will resume today, before Mr Cameron leaves Northern Ireland this morning.

First Minister Peter Robinson said the financial package from the Prime Minister was inadequate.

Speaking outside Stormont House on Friday morning Mr Cameron said a deal had not been possible.

He said: "I was prepared to put on the table real spending power, new spending power for the Northern Ireland Executive to sort out some of the issues that it faces. Spending power,  if everything was agreed potentially as much as  £1billion.

"But a deal hasn't been possible, what I hope will happen now is the politicians here in Northern Ireland will work together to agree these vital issues about parades, about flags, about the past, about the budget.

"If they come to an agreement, then that sort of financial fire power can be brought to bear, but of course if there isn't an agreement then that financial fire power isn't there.

"But I think things are better today than they were yesterday and I want to thank the Taoiseach for all his hard work in helping to bring people together and discuss these vital issues."

However Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said there was no credible financial package offered.

Negotiations began in Belfast yesterday and ran past midnight as the two premiers strove for a breakthrough on the disputes that continue to destabilise the power sharing administration.

Also speaking this morning Taoiseach Enda Kenny said that the document tabled on Thursday night addressed all of the issues.

He said: "There have been nine weeks of discussion over the past period about the difficulties the Executive and Assembly are having with regards to politics in Northern Ireland and the moving forward of the entire process.

"We came here as co-guarantors of the Good Friday agreement and all that has followed that, and the document that was tabled  last evening is comprehensive and does address all of the issues that have been involved here for the last period.

He added: "Politically there is not agreement on the issues that were tabled last evening."

Mr Cameron revealed that before last night there had been ten hours of talks and before that there had been 85 hours of talks.

The Prime Minister said he remains hopeful that a deal is possible.

He said: "A deal is possible because parties have done a lot of good work on parades, the past and flying flags. The real work that needs to be done is to make sure the budget of the Northern Ireland Executive is sustainable.

"What needs to happen is substantive agreement on these issues.

"We can't have agreement that is simply some words about these issues and then help with taxpayers' money from the UK."

Number 10 sources said: "In the early hours of Friday the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach presented an amended Heads of Agreement document to parties taking part in the talks at Stormont House; additionally the Prime Minister tabled a potential financial package to the parties for them to consider overnight.

"The PM informed the parties he would be returning for further talks on Friday morning before departing Northern Ireland at 10am."

The on-going talks process is now at the end of its ninth week with all sides insisting that if a deal is to be done, it has to be done before Christmas.

Speaking afterwards First Minister Peter Robinson said that he wanted to see the issues resolved but that the package offered by the Prime Minister was "inadequate".

He said: "I just want to see these issues resolved. and I rather expect all the people looking in on this want their politicians to get the job done rather than complaining about somebody else.

He said "In terms of the package from the Prime Minister I don't think it was adequate, I think if he wants to bribe us to bribe us with our own money comes a bit short of what is required.

"And I think as well as welfare reform, we still haven't got in sight of what is acceptable to Sinn Fein in that respect. We have very limited funds left available, any money we take out of budget to deal with welfare reform comes from frontline services."

He added: "I don't like putting timetables around it. We have a very long standing habit in Northern Ireland of flying through deadlines. The reality is we just have to roll up our sleeves and get down to the work and see where it takes us and that is what I will go back down and try and encourage the parties to do."

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said there was no credible financial package offered.

He said: "Unfortunately during the course of this engagement, whatever you have been told by British Prime Minister David Cameron, there was no credible financial package offered to Executive ministers to allow us to combat the austerity agenda that this British government has been inflicting on us over the course of the past four and a half years.

"Effectively our job, and I would expect that other representatives of other parties would concur with this, was to try and arrive at a financial package which would allow us to protect public services to protect jobs and hospitals, to keep teachers in schools, to ensure that arts were funded and to ensure that right across the responsibilities we have as government ministers to provide the essential services that our people deserve.

He continued: "Unfortunately, thus far we haven't got that. But of course, we don't give up in Sinn Fein, David Cameron has left, he is the person who has the major contribution to make to this process.

"There is other work to be done in relation to closing the gap in where we are at the moment in how we deal with the past."

As well as long-standing disputes over flags, parades and the toxic legacy of the past, the five parties in the power-sharing coalition are trying to achieve consensus on budgetary problems facing the devolved institutions, particularly the impasse over the non-implementation of the UK Government's welfare reforms in Northern Ireland.

The structures and governance arrangements at Stormont are also on the agenda.

But the most pressing issue is the budgetary situation.

Ministers in Belfast have already had to ask for an emergency £100 million loan from the Treasury to balance their books this financial year, and if a deal on welfare reform is not agreed they will face about £200 million of Government penalties for non-implementation.

As it is unlikely the administration would be able to absorb such a financial burden, the future of the Executive effectively depends on a resolution to the welfare reform issue.

Mr Cameron, who has faced calls to stump up more funds, sounded an optimistic note as he arrived at Stormont House to begin discussions yesterday.

"We have got to demonstrate we can resolve these issues," he said.

"The people inside this room will be discussing and talking about them but the people outside the room, they are the people that matter. They want to see their politicians deliver."

Mr Kenny said: "Hopefully we can reach a conclusion on a number of matters that are important for Northern Ireland and for the relationship between Northern Ireland and the Government in the Republic."

Further reading

Stormont talks: Deadline starts to slide in icy talks 

Cameron and Kenny push for deal, but mood music is muted in Northern Ireland  

Editor's Viewpoint: It's now or never for Executive

David Cameron's plea to the Stormont parties as he and Taoiseach fly in to broker a deal 

David Cameron: We must have a greater sense of urgency. That is what the public in Northern Ireland expects and that is what all politicians must now deliver 

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