Belfast Telegraph

Monday 20 October 2014

Downing St summits

First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness may be forgiven for experiencing a little chagrin when they see David Cameron in Downing Street tomorrow.

It is more than a year since the Stormont top two have had a face-to-face with the PM - and, even now, they are having to share it with their Scottish and Welsh counterparts.

With the Hillsborough accord last year adding the final piece to the devolution process, allowing for the transfer of policing and justice, Mr Cameron seems to have decided the days of regular London 'summits' for crisis talks on Northern Ireland matters were at an end. And, ever since, the First Minister and deputy First Minister have instead been pointed in the direction of the Secretary of State, Owen Paterson.

Thus, one of their aims tomorrow - along with their Scottish and Welsh counterparts, Alex Salmond and Carwyn Jones - will be to test Mr Cameron's commitment to his own concept of the 'respect agenda' in terms of the regions of the United Kingdom.

In a joint statement last week, the leaders of the three devolved administrations joined forces to demand the Government advance an 'agenda for progress' in the regions.

"We believe it is now time for the agenda of respect to deliver an agenda for progress on the issues of the greatest concern to those who elected us, including economic growth," the statement said.

"We call on the Prime Minister and deputy Prime Minister [Nick Clegg] to work with us to make progress on financial, constitutional and policy reform across the United Kingdom."

The most pressing problem is economics and measures currently under discussion between the UK Government and the trio of devolved assemblies include financial reforms, such as corporation tax, income tax, excise duty, borrowing powers and arrangements for end-of-year financial flexibility.

Other policy areas include welfare reform, energy policy, including renewable energy sources and electricity grid development, along with a House of Lords shake-up, proposals for a Bill of Rights Commission and further reform in Northern Ireland - seen as the plans to set up a single education authority and to amalgamate the present 26 councils into just 11.

All vital and relevant issues, no doubt: but a long way from the perpetual revolving-door talks, when the political to-and-fro kept the peace process on a precipice.

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