Belfast Telegraph

Kerry hopes for peace after deal

Northern Ireland's political deal will help build a peaceful future, US secretary of state John Kerry has said .

Marathon negotiations in Belfast involving the ministerial Executive's five parties and the UK and Irish governments concluded yesterday.

The Stormont House Agreement, forged after 11 weeks of discussions, has resolved destabilising wrangles over the administration's budget and its non-implementation of welfare reforms while establishing new structures to deal with the legacy of unsolved Troubles killings.

It achieved less progress on other vexed disputes over the flying of flags and parading, but did set out new processes to examine how to find solutions to those matters in the future.

Mr Kerry said: "I commend the parties for working together through some very contentious issues - and finding solutions that will promote a more peaceful and hopeful future for the people of Northern Ireland."

US president Barack Obama and UK prime minister David Cameron have also praised the deal.

Much of the plan has been facilitated with a 2.5 billion euro financial package from the UK government - an offer that combines some new money from the Treasury with enhanced borrowing access and flexibility.

Mr Kerry said: "This is statesmanship, pure and simple, and leadership by all parties to break a political impasse and avoid a fiscal crisis by resolving complex budgetary and welfare issues.

"The agreement reforms institutional arrangements, which will improve governance in Northern Ireland, and advances Northern Ireland's peace process by establishing new institutions to deal with the often-divisive legacy of the past."

He said those institutions included a historical investigations unit, an independent commission for information retrieval, an implementation and reconciliation group, and an oral history archive.

He said agreement on legacy issues was based largely on negotiations led last year by former special envoy for Northern Ireland Richard Haass, which broke up a year ago without success.

The deal overcomes nationalist concerns about welfare reform by enabling the Executive to establish and finance its own top-up fund to support those who will lose benefits when the policies are introduced.

The dispute, and accompanying multimillion-pound Treasury penalties for non-implementation, had threatened the future of the institutions.

While the Executive is still facing a hefty penalty to cover the period when reforms have not been in operation, the sum is much reduced on the 255 million-plus euro bill it was facing.

The deal will enable ministers to balance the budget in the coming financial year.

Around 890 million euro of the loan will fund a major public sector restructuring reform programme, which includes a voluntary redundancy scheme.

This proposal is part of efforts to rebalance an economy traditionally over-reliant on state jobs.

The Executive has also been granted the power to set its own rates of corporation tax in an effort to stimulate private sector growth.

This will enable it to better compete for foreign direct investment with the much lower rate of business tax in operation in the Republic.

The document sets out steps reducing the number of Executive departments and Assembly members.

New mechanisms, supported by 190 million euro from the UK government, will investigate historic Troubles killings, taking the place of police and the independent police ombudsman. Legacy inquests will remain with the coroners' courts.

The talks process culminated with a final 30-hour round of negotiations that saw politicians talk through the night at Stormont House.

The discussions were chaired by the UK's Northern Ireland Secretary, Theresa Villiers. Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan was also involved throughout.

Mr Cameron and Taoiseach Enda Kenny took part in an intensive session of talks in Belfast earlier this month.

Parades, including a flashpoint demonstration at Ardoyne in North Belfast, do not form part of the Stormont House Agreement.

A Northern Ireland Office (NIO) statement said: "The government remains fully committed to seeking a resolution to the situation Twaddell/Ardoyne."

When the NIO announced a panel on parading in North Belfast it stated that a key principle was that it must command cross-community support.

The statement added: "The aim of the panel was mediation and dialogue, but effective mediation cannot take place without meaningful engagement from both sides.

"It has become apparent that there is insufficient support for the proposed panel among some of those most closely involved in the dispute. This is reflected, to varying degrees, on both sides of the community.

"We have therefore decided, on balance, not to go ahead with setting up the panel.

"We will continue to work to see if a way can be found to help resolve the impasse at Twaddell/Ardoyne and encourage others to do the same."

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