Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

Theresa Villiers: Government will help fund Haass deal if parties can agree

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers sits in on a news conference at the Belfast Telegraph with editor Mike Gilson  (centre) and other staff
Secretary of State Theresa Villiers sits in on a news conference at the Belfast Telegraph with editor Mike Gilson (centre) and other staff

The Government could help fund the Haass proposals on flags, parading and the past if local parties take a united approach, Secretary of State Theresa Villiers has suggested.

All-party talks chaired by Richard Haass, a former US diplomat, came up with proposals for a series of bodies to examine the legacy of the past and two new bodies to replace the Parades Commission.

However, only Sinn Fein and the SDLP agreed the proposals in full. The unionist parties and Alliance expressed reservations.

Ms Villiers spoke to the Belfast Telegraph ahead of a round of back-to-back meetings with three of the party leaders.

Yesterday she met DUP leader Peter Robinson, Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt and Alliance leader David Ford. She met the SDLP and Sinn Fein last week.

Ms Villiers said that her starting point would be that any new institutions must be paid for from the block grant which is paid by Westminster to Northern Ireland each year. However, she opened the door to increased aid by saying "if the Executive were to make a proposal for additional funding of course that would be seriously considered".

In 2009 Tony Blair's Labour Government agreed to pick up the £300m tab for dealing with the past under proposals put forward by Lord Eames and Denis Bradley.

When this was put to her, Ms Villiers said Chancellor George Osborne would have to sanction any fresh spending.

Northern Ireland Politicians must break logjam, but wheels need to be greased 

She pointed out that, if Haass were implemented, the Historical Enquiries Team and the historical section of the Police Ombudsman's Office would both be ended and this would release funds.

She stressed: "We have to deal with the deficit. That means spending less public money and it means that the big cheque diplomacy of the Blair era is very difficult to justify these days.

"We will look at any proposals from the Executive seriously, but we have very constrained spending budgets."

Ms Villiers stressed that if disagreement over issues like flags and parading sparked violence and disorder, that would threaten our prospects of economic recovery.

She believed that dissident violence, flag protests and marching disputes damaged us last year.

"As I have said many times, sectarian division can make it harder to bring jobs," she added.

"Getting an agreement on flags, parading and the past would clearly be helpful for selling Northern Ireland to overseas businesses because political stability is top of the list for criteria which determine where people will invest."

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