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Sinn Fein's McGuinness hopeful deal on past can be thrashed out despite row over welfare

By Liam Clarke

Published 07/08/2015

Chief Constable George Hamilton shakes hands with Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness at a Feile 2015 event last night
Chief Constable George Hamilton shakes hands with Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness at a Feile 2015 event last night

Martin McGuinness has predicted that there could be a settlement on how to deal with the past - even if a Stormont budget is never agreed.

Both welfare reform and dealing with the past have been unable to move forward, as both are linked through the Stormont House Agreement.

Progress on welfare reform has stalled over Sinn Fein's reluctance to accept cuts from Westminster.

But now Mr McGuinness has said there could be movement on dealing with the legacy of the Troubles even if the budget argument isn't settled.

"While I hope that in September we will see a resolution to the budgetary problems that we have faced flowing from the Stormont House Agreement, it is very important to say that even if we don't see a resolution to those difficulties the issue of how we deal with the past still has to be settled," Mr McGuinness, speaking as a Sinn Fein negotiator, told the Belfast Telegraph.

"There is a huge responsibility on the British Government particularly to ensure that what was agreed at Stormont House is implemented."

The Deputy First Minister also appealed for everyone to obey the Parades Commission and the police in Sunday's controversial Anti Internment League march through Belfast. The organisers say that they will breach the determination by arriving at 2.30pm - during peak shopping hours - rather than leaving at 1.30 as the Parades Commission had ordered.

"My approach is to support the Parades Commission and the PSNI as the lawful authorities, even if, like me you don't always agree with particular decisions," he said.

He briefed the Belfast Telegraph ahead of a function at Feile an Phobail, the West Belfast Festival, where he appeared with Chief Constable George Hamilton, to talk about dealing with the legacy of the Troubles.

Mr McGuinness said he had had meetings in London over the past fortnight as well as meetings with local party leaders.

"It is clear that the British Government have come under direct criticism from Europe in that they haven't moved fast enough and they haven't been prepared to provide the level of funding that would be required to finance the menu of options that we believe victims are entitled to."

He was referring to a demand from Europe that Britain fulfil its obligations to fully investigate Troubles atrocities. This is a legal obligation on Britain, not Stormont.

Mr McGuinness wants that cost, £30m a year for six years, to be met by Britain and added that "some think that won't be enough to deal with the challenges that we face in relation to truth recovery."

He denied that relations were bad between him and Peter Robinson.

"The fact that Peter and I have appointed Judith Thompson as the new Victims Commissioner a couple of weeks ago sent out a very clear signal within the victims groups that we need to push on with this as a priority."

Summarising the current state of play, he said: "There have been ongoing party leaders' meetings over the course of recent times. They are continuing right through August but considerable progress has been made in relation to how we deal with the past.

"That means putting in place the structures and mechanisms that are needed to provide a menu of options for victims.

"Progress has been made on Historical Investigations Unit (HIU), on the information recovery mechanism and the establishment of an oral history project."

These would all be free standing from the PSNI and would be separately staffed - something Mr Hamilton appears to have sympathy with.

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