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Pledge in Queen's Speech could be derailed by Stormont crisis

By David Young

Published 28/05/2015

The Queen, accompanied by Prince Philip, leaves the Palace of Westminster after the State Opening of Parliament yesterday
The Queen, accompanied by Prince Philip, leaves the Palace of Westminster after the State Opening of Parliament yesterday
Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, arrive at the Palace of Westminster

The Government has outlined its plans for legislation to give effect to the Stormont House Agreement - despite a political crisis that has pushed the deal close to implosion.

The Queen's Speech, setting out the Conservative administration's plans to govern, contains a pledge to "take forward" the "historic agreement" reached at Stormont House.

But whether a series of new bodies envisaged in the December accord between the five Executive parties and the British and Irish governments ever get up and running remains in doubt, due to a destabilising Stormont wrangle over welfare reform.

The implementation of welfare reforms was a commitment made at Stormont House by the Executive parties, and Downing Street has made clear that delivery of the rest of the agreement depends on it happening.

But that is now in real doubt after a crucial Assembly Bill to introduce the measures was vetoed by Sinn Fein and the SDLP - a move that has triggered a serious budget crisis at Stormont, putting the very future of the power-sharing administration at risk.

Despite the crisis, the Queen's Speech contains a firm pledge by the Government to enact the legislation required to deliver its commitments made at Stormont House.

However, Mr Cameron would be unlikely to push ahead with his Northern Ireland Bill until a degree of stability returns to Stormont.

The Bill will provide for the setting up of an independent Historical Investigations Unit to take on work on unsolved Troubles murders previously undertaken by the police's controversial Historical Enquiries Team (HET) and the NI Police Ombudsman.

It will also enable the UK Government to co-operate with the Irish Government to create the Independent Commission for Information Retrieval.

This body will give bereaved relatives the opportunity to find out more about what happened to their loved ones, with perpetrators able to provide information free from threat of prosecution.

The Bill will also establish a new Oral History Archive to document people's experiences of the conflict.

The last Government pledged to devolve corporation tax powers to Northern Ireland in the wake of the Stormont House deal. That legislation was passed in the last parliament but the powers will not be handed over until the chancellor triggers a clause to do so.

The Government has made clear this will only happen when Stormont is on a firm financial footing.

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