Belfast Telegraph

Ulster talks 'not in good place'

The smaller parties in the Northern Ireland Executive were on the outside of key budgetary negotiations involving David Cameron and Stormont's leaders, the Ulster Unionists have claimed.

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said late night talks on solving the spending crisis in the Executive were primarily conducted between the Prime Minister and the two largest parties, the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein.

He said a failure by the DUP and Sinn Fein to declare their bottom lines in terms of finances had inhibited negotiation to extract a better funding offer from the Government than the one tabled by Mr Cameron last night.

"I would love to say that we had a crucial role, but we spent a lot of last night outside a room where the Prime Minister was talking to the parties who lead the (Stormont) government and that is the real politik of it," he said.

Mr Nesbitt said the failure to strike a deal on finances had placed a serious risk over the chancellor's offer to devolve corporation tax powers to Northern Ireland. In his Autumn Statement, George Osborne said he would transfer the power, but only if the Executive made progress on its budgetary problems.

Mr Nesbitt said the stimulus created from cutting the rate of corporation tax could create up to 50,000 high quality jobs.

"We are not in a good place," he said.

"But it still needs to be fixed and it needs to be fixed urgently because it now looks like corporation tax is hanging on by a thread."

SDLP leader Dr Alasdair McDonnell said the cross-party talks must continue in the absence of Mr Cameron and Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

"The Prime Minister and Taoiseach have left and they have not left a solution behind them," he said.

"We need their further assistance, engagement and commitment to get to the comprehensive deal that all of our people need and deserve.

"The Prime Minister spoke about offering additional money but the offer was essentially junk."

He warned that the Heads of Agreement document contained proposals on peace process disputes, like parades and the legacy of the past, that were "watered down and diluted" versions of solutions outlined in ill-fated talks chaired by former US diplomat Dr Richard Haass last year.

"The papers produced by the British Government do not reflect the needs of people in Northern Ireland and more particularly the needs of victims," he added.

"A menu of more Tory and Treasury dogma and will not get us across the line. We need to be aware that people across the North, particularly victims and survivors will see through superficial deal particularly one that is shallow on money and shallow on substance."

Alliance Party leader David Ford said the Executive was now facing a "very difficult position".

"And the fault is not entirely the fault of the two governments," he added.

"There is a need for realism, there is need for the parties now to engage seriously about the range of issues put forward in the paper last night and then look to see what possible proposals could be put to the two governments to show that we are stepping up to the responsibilities that the people of Northern Ireland gave us when they elected us and they expect us to carry out."

He said it was time for others in the Executive to exercise "leadership and responsibility".

"If you don't put forward a credible bid for finance, you can't expect a serious response from the Government," he said.

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