Belfast Telegraph

Stormont crisis: Outside pressure is vital if a deal is to be secured

By Liam Clarke

Theresa Villiers has been busy over the last couple of days. The Secretary of State is engaged in what could be a make or break effort to save the political institutions and put the peace process back on track.

Politics are blighted by the politicians' inability to tackle the issues of flags, parading and the past. However, the most immediate threat is the inability to agree a viable way forward on welfare reform. The Executive is now set on a course of overspending the welfare budget allocated to it by Britain and being forced into a regime of disastrous unplanned cuts across the public sector.

Even Peter Robinson, the First Minister, concedes that the system is now dysfunctional and devolution will become "too expensive" if we cannot cut a deal. Nobody fundamentally disagrees with this analysis – the recriminations we are hearing are over who is to blame for bringing this calamity about.

Yesterday Ms Villiers met not only Mr Robinson and David Ford, the Justice Minister, but also Lord Alderdice, the former Stormont Speaker and member of the commission which monitored the paramilitary ceasefires. The suspicion is that Lord Alderdice, a former Alliance leader, is being considered to chair some of the discussions. Earlier in the week she met Mike Nesbitt of the UUP and next week it will be Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein and the other political leaders.

If talks get under way, the Irish government, who is calling for them, and the US government, who recently sent Senator Gary Hart here to scope the situation, will be involved as guarantors of the peace process.

They may have to do more than cheer from the sidelines. The talks, chaired by former US diplomat Richard Haass last winter, ended in disagreement. The lesson was that agreement on difficult issues is not possible without considerable pressure from the governments.

Compromise seems to be only possible for some of our parties if they can say their hands were forced by government.

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