Stormont deal agreed to resolve Northern Ireland crisis: corporation tax to be lowered to 12.5%, £500 million to tackle NI issues
- Devolving corporation tax powers to bring in a 12.5% rate in line with the Republic of Ireland
- An additional £500 million from the Exchequer to tackle issues unique to Northern Ireland, including efforts on the removal of peace walls.
- Fresh obligations on the NI parties to work together to end the presence of paramilitarism.
- Concerted efforts to target organised and cross-border crime.
- Measures to address the issue of flags and parades.
- Reform of the Stormont Assembly including its size, the number of departments and the use of petitions of concern as a form of opposition.
A deal to resolve Northern Ireland's current political crisis has been announced.
The agreement endorsed by Sinn Fein, the Democratic Unionists and the UK and Irish governments was struck after almost 10 weeks of negotiations at Stormont House in Belfast.
It's out - Stormont deal pic.twitter.com/Qai7Egodj6— Lesley-Anne McKeown (@LAMcbelfast) November 17, 2015
The agreement - A Fresh Start: The Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan - runs to 67 pages.
A range of disputes, including the fallout from a murder linked to the IRA and an acute budgetary crisis over non-implementation of welfare reforms, had pushed the coalition Executive towards the verge of collapse.
An NIO statement said: "'A Fresh Start: the Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan' builds on previous political agreements and brings closer the goal of Northern Ireland where politics works, the economy grows and society is stronger."
It is understood the deal has found a way to resolve an acute budgetary crisis caused by a long-running failure to implement welfare reforms.
A motion to give Westminster the power to rule on the devolved matter is expected to be debated in the Assembly on Wednesday.
However, it does not incorporate a solution to a vexed wrangle over the legacy of Northern Ireland's troubled past with intensive negotiations failing to resolve the impasse over the prospect of some official documents not being disclosed, on national security grounds, to proposed truth-recovery bodies.
The fallout from the IRA-linked killing of former IRA man Kevin McGuigan in August had been on the agenda during the ten-week talks process and a new three-person panel is likely to be set up to examine the ongoing scourge of paramilitarism.
It is thought the independent panel will report back next May.
While only DUP and Sinn Fein sign-off is required among the local parties to implement any deal, they both would ideally like the endorsement of Stormont's three other main parties - the Ulster Unionists, the SDLP and Alliance Party - to add greater legitimacy.
The UUP is viewed as the least likely three to sign up.
The SDLP has insisted it will not sign up to a bad deal.
Key details of the new deal
Here are the key elements contained in the 67 pages of A Fresh Start - The Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan.
Section A: Ending Paramilitarism and Tackling Organised Crime:
- Signatories pledge a "resolute commitment" to complete process of ending paramilitarism and promise "most far reaching commitments ever taken to uphold rule of law and end paramilitarism".
- The commitments, including undertaking to accept no instructions from such organisations, will be incorporated into the Executive's ministerial code of office and will also be required of all Assembly members.
- Executive and two governments will meet in December to agree new measures to tackle organised crime and paramilitarism.
- A Joint Agency Task Force, comprising police commanders and customs officials from both sides of the border, will report to ministers every six months.
- Steps to speed up the criminal justice system, provide more support to victims and enhance forensic science capabilities.
- Programmes established to prevent young people being drawn into paramilitary activity and to reintegrate former paramilitaries into wider society.
- Executive will publish an action plan on tackling paramilitarism by June 2016.
- A new four-member international body will monitor progress. The Executive will nominate two members of the panel, with the governments appointing one each. The panel will report annually to 2021.
Section B: NI Executive Financial Reforms and Context:
- Previous commitments to reduce the number of Executive departments from 12 to nine by May 2016 and to cut the number of MLAs from 108 to 90 by the Assembly election after next go ahead.
- Executive will be handed power to set its own rate of corporation tax with the intent of reducing the rate to the 12.5% levied in the Irish Republic by April 2018. Move is dependent on the Executive committing to a sustainable budget and implementing the rest of the Fresh Start agreement.
Section C: NI Executive Welfare and Tax Credits Top-Ups:
- Reforms to the benefits system introduced elsewhere in the UK from 2012 will finally be rolled out in Northern Ireland through Westminster legislation, by way of a Legislative Consent Motion approved by the Assembly. An Act enabling Westminster to legislate on welfare in Northern Ireland will lapse at the end of 2016.
- Executive has agreed to allocate £585 million over four years (a six year period was originally agreed) to top up welfare payments. £345 million will cover welfare claimants and £240 million will support those impacted by changes to tax credits. This policy will be reviewed in 2018/19.
- A working group chaired by Ulster University professor Eileen Evason will decide exactly where the money will be spent.
- The controversial so-called "bedroom tax" will not be introduced in Northern Ireland.
Section D: UK Government Financial Support:
- The Government offered a £2 billion financial support package in last December's Stormont House Agreement (SHA).
- It is boosting that package by a further £500 million to fund issues "unique" to Northern Ireland. This includes £160 million in additional funding, over five years, for the Police Service of Northern Ireland to tackle dissident republicans (this money represents a continuation of additional Treasury support already offered to the PSNI); £25 million for the Executive to tackle continuing paramilitary activity (match-funded by the Executive); £60 million to build community relations through initiatives such as bringing down community "peace walls"; and £125 million, over five years, to address fraud and error in the welfare system.
- Executive will have the ability to retain half of the anticipated savings accrued through reducing welfare fraud and error.
- The Government has offered "further flexibilities" to enable £500 million offered in the SHA for shared and integrated education schemes to also be spent on shared housing projects.
- The £150 million for the legacy bodies envisaged in the SHA will only be released subject to an as-yet-elusive agreement on the establishment of those bodies.
- Series of new control measures to prevent Executive overspends will be implemented.
- Executive has conducted an in year "monitoring round" to rebalance its budget shortfall.
- The Government will undertake to assess the impact of corporation tax reductions to make future adjustments to Northern Ireland's block grant.
Section E: Irish Government Financial Support:
- The Dublin government has pledged "targeted investment" in cross-border economic infrastructure.
- It has committed a further £25 million to the £50 million it is already spending on the A5 dual carriageway linking Londonderry to Aughnacloy. However, the Irish government had previously committed £400 million to the project - an undertaking it pulled in 2011.
- It will offer 2.5 million euro (£1.75m) for a "development fund" for the north west of Ireland.
- The Irish government will also "explore further development" of the Ulster Canal's cross-border waterway links.
- It will also undertake, alongside the Executive, a review of the stalled plan for a cross-border bridge at Narrow Water between counties Louth and Down.
Section F: Implementation of other aspects of the Stormont House Agreement:
- Plans for a commission to examine the thorny issues of flags, identity, culture and tradition will proceed.
- So too will a plan to transfer from Westminster to the Assembly the responsibility for regulating parades. Executive discussion paper will be produced to outline options on how to regulate parades and associated protests.
- The agreement acknowledges the implementation of new mechanisms to deal with the legacy of the Troubles, such as a new investigations unit and a truth recovery body, remain "work in progress" and signatories were "unable to find a way forward on some key issues".
- The two governments have pledged to "reflect on options" for another process to achieve progress in this area.
- Plans to set up provisions for the formation of an official opposition in the Assembly will proceed.
- A new protocol will be agreed on the Assembly's contentious Petition of Concern vote blocking mechanism. It will include a pledge to only deploy it in "exceptional circumstances".
Robinson: agreement will consolidate peace
First Minister Peter Robinson MLA said: "This afternoon we have concluded the talks process with an Agreement. After many months of discussion and many difficulties along the way we are publishing the agreement entiltled 'A Fresh Start – The Stomont Agreement and Implementation Plan'.
"We believe the agreement will consolidate the peace, secure stability, enable progress and offer all our people hope for the future.
"Both the deputy First Minister and I are pledged to work together to implement the vision contained within the Agreement. While coming from different political backgrounds with different political outlooks we are both united in our determination to forge a better, more prosperous future for everyone in Northern Ireland.
"At the outset of this process I indicated that we needed to make Stormont fit for purpose and to secure an agreement that would deliver a stable and long-term basis upon which to operate. I believe we have secured that outcome.
"For the first time this agreement commits all parties to call for and work together to achieve the disbandment of all paramilitary organisations and their structures; and to accept no authority, direction or control on our political activities other than our democratic mandate alongside our own personal and party judgement. These and other commitments will be added to the Pledge of Office as a requirement of a person taking Ministerial office.
"In addition to further commitments from the parties there will be a new and concerted effort to tackle criminality and organised crime. A new joint agency taskforce will be established and resourced with the aim of putting those still involved in terror and criminality out of business once and for all.
"Undoubtedly at the heart of this agreement is a desire to build a better Northern Ireland for all our citizens. We set out further steps to develop our economy, support those most vulnerable, assist working people and build on the political progress to date.
"The decision to reduce our Corporation Tax rate from April 2018 to 12.5% will we believe act as a game changer in our efforts to grow the Northern Ireland economy. The additional half billion financial package will allow us to protect front-line services ensuring we become efficient in how we deliver for the public.
"Our agreement contains details of the steps we will take as an Executive, as well as those to be taken by the UK Government, on welfare reform and sets out measures to support those working people who may suffer from a reduction in tax credits. The UK Government will pass a Northern Ireland Welfare Bill at Westminster following a debate in the Assembly tomorrow.
"The Executive will provide £345 million for welfare top-ups and £240 million for tax credit support over the next four years. We have asked Professor Eileen Evason to lead a small working group to bring forward proposals and the Executive will implement the findings of the group. In my view this represents a sensible way forward and will ensure we have both a fair and affordable welfare system while recognising the need to help those who are also in work.
"Today represents another milestone along the way as we normalise and build our society. The agreements and plans we set out represent our desire to overcome the difficulties of the last number of years. We must ensure that through co-operation and common purpose the spirit, vision and promise of the document is fulfilled."
McGuinness: new opportunity
Sinn Fein's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said the settlement represented a new opportunity.
He said: "At the heart of this agreement is our common commitment to a better future.
"The cuts to our welfare budgets, tax credits and our block grant are wrong and unfair. We are determined to do all in our power to oppose this austerity and protect our people and our public services.
"We have secured more than half a billion pounds of additional funding for the Executive plus flexibilities that can be invested in growth and public services.
"We are providing a package of £585 million to support the most vulnerable in our society and low-income working families.
"We have appointed a panel under the leadership of Professor Eileen Evason to draft proposals on how this money will provide essential support to people on welfare and thousands of families targeted by Tory cuts to tax credits.
"We will continue to do all we can to support those in need.
"The legacy of the past remains a huge gap in this work. The onus remains on the British government to live up to their responsibilities to victims, in particular full disclosure.
"We also addressed directly the issue of paramilitarism. There can be no place for armed groups in our society. That is why the agreement includes additional resources for policing and mechanisms to challenge armed gangs and criminality.
"Our political institutions are the best way forward. The First Minister and I are absolutely united on this."
Cameron: Turning point for Northern Ireland
Prime Minister David Cameron said it was "an important turning point for Northern Ireland".
"The agreement secures sustainability for Northern Ireland's budget, sets out how we'll deal with paramilitary groups, and could provide a basis for a shared future for the people of Northern Ireland," he said.
Villiers: Step towards brighter future
Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers said: "This deal means that Northern Ireland's finances can be put back on a sustainable footing, ending the long-standing dispute over the budget.
"There will be a fresh emphasis on tackling paramilitarism and organised crime and clear declaration that such activity will never be tolerated.
"And there will be reforms of the Executive and Assembly to make devolution work better.
"Today's agreement is another step towards the Government's goal of building a brighter, more secure future for all the people of Northern Ireland."
Flanagan: Credible roadmap
Charlie Flanagan, the Republic of Ireland's Minister for Foreign Affairs, described the deal as a "credible roadmap" to tackling ongoing paramilitarism and implement aspects of last December's Stormont House Agreement.
"It underpins all our efforts to bring greater reconciliation and economic prosperity to the people of Northern Ireland and communities right across our island," he said.
Mr Flanagan said the NI parties were agreed on working to disband all paramilitary groups, their structures and to challenge their control of communities.
An international body will be established to oversee that.
On organised and cross-border crime, more co-operation between police on both sides of the border will be pursued and strategic priorities will also be identified to crackdown on gangs.
Mr Flanagan said the Irish and British governments will reflect on demands to balance the needs of victims' families and national security in trying to deal with legacy issues of the Troubles.
"The needs of victims and survivors will remain central to our work," he said.
"We are determined to achieve the establishment of these institutions so that we can in a fundamental way deal with the past, foster reconciliation and build a society for future generations that is free from hurt and suspicion."
Mr Flanagan also said the Irish Government had given a commitment to fund the long-awaited upgrade of the A5.
US secretary of state John Kerry welcomed the deal.
He said: "The United States welcomes the announcement today of an agreement among Northern Ireland's political parties to strengthen Northern Ireland's devolved institutions.
"Northern Ireland's party leaders deserve credit for the considerable work and political courage they demonstrated to resolve difficult budgetary issues, implement institutional reforms outlined by the Stormont House Agreement, and develop a framework to counter residual paramilitaries.
"I commend the UK and Irish governments for patiently and steadfastly facilitating this successful outcome.
"I also urge all of Northern Ireland's political leaders to support and fully implement this agreement. It was carefully constructed to deliver better and sustainable governance, as well as to advance Northern Ireland's peace process for the benefit of all the people of the region.
"I strongly encourage the UK and Irish governments and all the parties to continue their vital work to deal effectively with the past by creating the institutions set out in the Stormont House Agreement.
"The United States will provide continued political support for Northern Ireland's peace process and for implementation of this accord. Moreover, my personal representative, Senator Gary Hart (Retired), will continue his deep engagement in support of a peaceful and prosperous Northern Ireland."
UUP: Agreement needs careful consideration
The Ulster Unionist Party said it will give the Stormont Agreement careful consideration.
A spokesperson said: "We received the document late this afternoon and it is only fair that we give it careful consideration. We have already identified a number of questions for which we will be seeking answers and there remain a number of outstanding issues.
"There are questions around the finances. We will need to reconcile the various references to additional monies. There are also some glaring omissions. We are very disappointed that victims’ hopes have been built up, only to be let down again.
"We will analyse the document`s content before coming to a definitive position."
CBI welcomes new deal
The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) Northern Ireland chair, Colin Walsh, has given an initial response to the announcement of a new political deal for Northern Ireland.
Mr Walsh said: "The CBI and the wider business community welcomes the announcement of a new comprehensive political deal that promises to resolve the long standing political instability that has had a detrimental impact on our economic recovery.
"The recent spate of job losses has demonstrated that the economy, now more than ever, needs political stability with a clear vision, leadership and commitment across the Executive.
"CBI has been clear that Northern Ireland can prosper under devolution. This new deal must ensure there is a fully functioning Executive which can deliver good government and make decisions in the best interests of Northern Ireland’s future prosperity and all its citizens. I hope this deal will ensure we have brought an end to the series of standoffs and showdowns. The prize of success is tremendous and the opportunities enormous.
"I would like to congratulate the First Minister and the deputy First Minister, all their political representatives as well as the other participating parties both locally, nationally and internationally on the significant efforts they have put in to reach this much needed agreement.”
"The business community welcomes the NI Executive’s commitment to introduce a 12.5% corporation tax rate in April 2018. This announcement will undoubtedly provide a key ingredient to energise the private sector as well as attracting a new generation of inward investment businesses thereby creating tens of thousands of new jobs and boost prosperity for all, and transform our economic prospects.
"We also welcome the commitments to proceed with the construction of key transport road projects, including the completion of the A5 by 2019, with the financial support of the Irish government. The additional £500m commitment from the UK government and additional financial flexibilities are also clearly a welcome step forward and recognition of our unique challenges.”
"It is now vitally important that the commitments in this Agreement are delivered by all the parties."
PwC Tax partner Martin Fleetwood said: "Under today's agreement, the Executive commits to reduce the Northern Ireland rate of corporation tax to 12.5% from April 2018 and the business community will welcome that clarity and commitment.
"It will permit Invest Northern Ireland to begin promoting the lower rate in its marketing efforts and encourage companies to ensure that they are compliant."
NIIRTA welcomes fresh start agreement
The Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) has welcomed the Fresh Start Stormont Agreement.
NIIRTA Chief Executive Glyn Roberts said: "Political stability is the bottom line for sustainable economic development and so we welcome this agreement as a roadmap in moving forward both the institutions and our economy.
"We hope that it will have widest possible agreement across the political parties. It is not for us to comment on the politics of this agreement, but it is important for us to give our views on the economic aspects of it.
"At long last we have the date and rate for Corporation Tax of April 2018. It is crucial that this timetable is maintained.
"The scourge of Paramilitarism continues to be a problem for our members and our economy and we welcome the proposed Joint Agency Task Force to tackle this vital issue.
"It is positive that a new Independent Fiscal Council for Northern Ireland will be established to provide objective assessments on the NI Executive future budgets.
"A commencement date for the A5 and progress on the North-West Gateway are welcome boosts for the infrastructure of our towns west of the Bann."
Church leaders pray accommodation restores hope
Church leaders have welcomed the fact that an accommodation has been reached.
"As Church leaders, we came together in September and called on our elected representatives to place at the heart of their discussions ‘an awareness of their shared responsibility for the common good’. Today we welcome the announcement, that with the support of the two Governments, a wide ranging agreement has been reached.
"We recognise that everyone involved in the negotiations will not have achieved all that they wanted in this agreement, nor will everyone who reads it be fully content with every aspect of it.
"Such is the nature of any agreed accommodation. However, we pray that this particular accommodation reached in the interests of all, will be the basis for beginning to restore hope to those who are struggling and re-establish the trust that has been slowly ebbing from our political institutions.
"As Churches we will study the detail of The Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan and will no doubt comment further. We also encourage it to be carefully and widely read across the community and given fair and thorough consideration.”
- Rev Brian Anderson, President of the Methodist Church in Ireland
- Archbishop Richard Clarke, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh
- Archbishop Eamon Martin, Catholic Archbishop of Armagh
- Rt Rev Dr Ian McNie, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland
- Rev Dr Donald Watts, President, Irish Council of Churches
TUV accuses SF and DUP of 'clinging to power'
Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister, an arch critic of power-sharing, has launched a stinging attack accusing the DUP and Sinn Fein of trying to "cling" to power.
He said: "Such was the DUP's desperation to delay an election that any deal would do.
"Sweeping murder under the carpet is the abiding message of this Sinn Fein/DUP manifesto."
Victims groups express 'deep disappointment and frustration'
Victims groups have expressed "deep disappointment and frustration" at the failure of the Stormont talks to tackle the legacy of Northern Ireland's troubled past.
The Pat Finucane Centre and Justice for the Forgotten, which represents 200 families, has accused Westminster of ignoring its obligations under human rights legislation to disclose the truth about the actions of state agents.
In a joint statement they said: "In their homes around the country, those who lost loved ones in the conflict will be privately grieving and angry at London's insistence that it must be able to redact/censor reports from the proposed Historical Investigations Unit on "national security" grounds.
"The PFC and JFF consider it totally unacceptable for the state to demand the right to conceal the actions of its agents in bombings, shootings and murders during the conflict. This was not part of the Stormont House Agreement in December 2014.
"If London had this right, it could mean that families would never discover that state agents, informers, UDR soldiers and RUC men had a role in their relatives' murders."
The Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) claimed the UK Government was effectively pulling down the "national security shutter" on legacy related investigations.
Brian Gormally, CAJ's director said: "Let us be very clear - this is not a question of the 'local parties failing to agree'. It is the UK Government that has vetoed progress by demanding the right to use 'national security' to cover up the unlawful activities of its agents.
"It will use state power to give impunity to state agents. In so doing, it jettisons the interests of victims and the truth, continues its violation of international human rights standards and undermines the rule of law."