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David Cameron set to visit Northern Ireland for first time in a year

By Noel McAdam

The Prime Minister is to visit Northern Ireland this week for the first time in more than a year.

David Cameron is to address Assembly members on Thursday in a speech expected to underpin his so-called 'respect agenda' for UK regions.

He will also meet First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness for talks at Stormont Castle.

It will be the trio's second meeting in two days, as Mr Cameron is due to meet the Stormont top two just 24 hours earlier in London, alongside their Scottish and Welsh counterparts.

Both Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness have criticised Mr Cameron for refusing to meet them face to face since the crunch Hillsborough talks, when Gordon Brown was prime minister. Those talks led to the transfer of policing and justice powers and the completion of devolution.

Since that deal in February 2010, the First Minister and Deputy First Minister have been told they must initially raise any concerns with Secretary of State Owen Paterson. Before this, there was an expectation that Downing Street operated an 'open door' access policy for Northern Ireland's political leaders.

Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness have both accused the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition of effectively reneging on a vital financial commitment of around £18bn stretching into 2017. It was secured with the support of the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP in the run-up to the restoration of devolution in 2007.

Although Mr Paterson has continued to insist the money will be delivered, the First and Deputy First Ministers have said they do not have any confidence in his assurances, particularly in relation to the 2017 timeframe.

Mr Cameron also sparked controversy in last year's general election campaign when he referred to Northern Ireland as a region in which the public sector is too big.

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