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Theresa Villiers: No 'side deals' over talks

Secretary of State's denial as Ulster Unionists fail to endorse agreement

By Noel McAdam

The Government has insisted there were no "side deals" hammered out during the negotiations which led to the Stormont House Agreement.

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers was responding to concerns from Ulster Unionists, whose party has stopped short of fully endorsing the proposals.

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt warned there were reservations because of side deals in the past including the 2011 talks on devolving police and justice powers and the Weston Park talks.

But Mrs Villiers told the House of Commons yesterday: "There are no side deals."

Instead she warned the Executive it still faced "much work ahead" on implementation of the deal, which only Sinn Fein so far has fully ratified.

But she added: "This agreement gives the five parties in the devolved Executive the chance to refocus and work together with renewed confidence for a more prosperous, more stable, more united and more secure future for the people of Northern Ireland."

The DUP and Alliance are expected to give their backing in the next few weeks, while the SDLP said it would reach a verdict in due course.

Shadow Secretary of State Ivan Lewis, while welcoming the deal reached on December 23, said while it was one thing to reach an agreement "for the sake of credibility, it is incredibly important that that agreement is now implemented".

And he asked: "What is the timescale for the creation of the new system to deal with the past?

"What negotiating process will be put in place to deal with unresolved issues such as parades, flags, and other identity issues such as the Irish language? Finally, what process has been agreed to monitor the implementation of the agreement?"

Ms Villiers replied: "The timescale on the past is a key point, and the Government are keen to start working with the NI Executive on the work... the agreement sets out provision for a commission on flags to be established by June, and it is important that we press ahead with that."

SDLP South Down MP Margaret Ritchie said the detail of the deal on victims and dealing with the legacy of the Troubles was "quite light" and many believed information on inquests from victims and survivors "will not be met". Mrs Villiers said: "It is crucial that we all work on this."

Alliance MP Naomi Long said the agreement provided a "road map" on finances, but on volatile issues, such as parading and flags, it was "simply a parking garage".

Factfile

The deal averted a budget crisis with increased access to loans, but also includes implementation of welfare reform, with certain agreed adaptations paid from the Northern Ireland block grant, Stormont reform and a Commission on Flags, Identity and Culture.

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