Belfast Telegraph

Prime Minister David Cameron to fly in to help push party Stormont talks on the economy over the line

By Liam Clarke

Prime Minister David Cameron and Taoiseach Enda Kenny are both expected in Northern Ireland on Thursday hoping to help push party negotiations on the economy over the line.

The first hints of the visit were given by the Irish Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan.

Mr Flanagan told journalists in Armagh following a meeting of the North South Ministerial Conference yesterday: "I expect the British Prime Minister and Taoiseach will have their diaries cleared towards the end of next week."

A senior political source confirmed: "Thursday is the day they plan to come and they may stay until Friday. It could be delayed, but that seems unlikely."

The sources added that Gary Hart, the US Envoy to Ireland, will most likely be here the week after.

Hopes are rising of a resolution before Christmas and parties have been asked to work on papers over the weekend.

The quickening of the pace in the talks process follows a bilateral meeting between the DUP and Sinn Fein on Thursday morning, which went well, according to both parties.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness put forward a paper at the meeting calling for the establishment of a Peace Investment Fund (PIF) to receive contributions from governments in the UK, Ireland, European Union and the US, as well as charitable foundations.

This was well received by the DUP, which said that it had previously put a very similar idea in a paper to the party leaders.

Both parties are therefore backing the idea, and much will depend on the willingness of the governments to pledge contributions.

The PIF is a way of encouraging the British Government in particular to increase its subsidy to Northern Ireland. This ran at £9.6 billion last year, which came in the form of our block grant.

This is £1bn down in the last five years. Deductions are currently being made from our grant because we have overspent and because we have failed to extend welfare reform here.

Mr Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne have said the Government is prepared to devolve corporation tax-levying powers provided the Executive shows that it is willing and able to balance its books.

A huge Civil Service redundancy scheme and cuts across departments are currently being announced to try and show the Government that it can do this.

They are cautious because, under EU rules, we must repay the cost of the lost revenue to Westminster. "We are looking for an end to the assault on the block grant and we are looking for a financial package," a Sinn Fein source said.

The PIF is partly a device to boost spending here without specifically increasing the block grant, and therefore avoiding setting a precedent for Scotland and Wales to follow.

Britain will also be asked to repay £100m we have already paid in welfare reform fines if we can agree a balanced budget moving forward.

First Minister Peter Robinson has also confirmed that he has cleared his own diary for the next 10 days.

He has warned that if there is no agreement on finance, Stormont will fall.

Last night a Downing Street spokesperson said "we are not commenting on the PM's movements in advance".

Background

Talks on the future of Northern Ireland have been going on for six weeks. They cover flags, parading, the past and also the budgetary crisis. If progress is made - particularly on the economic front - by Christmas, then the Government has pledged to pass legislation devolving powers over corporation tax to us before the general election on May 7. The Executive parties want to lower the tax on business investment, but the price of doing so is estimated at £300 million a year.

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