'Stormont will now be fit for purpose': Peter Robinson
The First Minister writes on the deal he says shows devolution is delivering
Yesterday we concluded the talks process with an agreement. We called the agreement A Fresh Start - The Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan. This agreement will consolidate the peace, secure stability, enable progress and offer all our people hope for the future.
Last year on the pages of this paper I said, "Stormont wasn't fit for purpose". During the summer, I called for an intensive talks process to deal with the issues around finance and welfare.
With two terrorist murders on our streets we also added dealing with paramilitarism to the agenda.
This agreement represents a fresh start. It deals with welfare, resolves our financial difficulties and serves notice on paramilitaries that it's time they left the stage.
When the going got tough some threw in the towel, chose the easy option and walked away.
The DUP didn't. We stayed the course, held the line and ultimately got a good deal for Northern Ireland. One step at a time, we got solutions to the difficulties.
Only yesterday on these pages we read how more than 100,000 families are facing having their working tax credits removed by the Government in London.
The DUP fundamentally disagrees with such an assault on working people. Not only have we fought the reforms in Parliament, we have now agreed a deal which sets £240m aside to help those families. That's devolution delivering for working people.
The Executive has now set aside over £345m to deal with welfare reforms and ensure Northern Ireland has the best welfare scheme anywhere in the United Kingdom. The UK Government will pass a Northern Ireland Welfare Bill at Westminster following a debate in the Assembly today.
We have asked Professor Eileen Evason to lead a small working group to bring forward proposals, and the Executive will implement the findings of the group. In my view this represents a sensible way forward and will ensure we have both a fair and affordable welfare system while recognising the need to help those who are also in work.
We have also agreed a new deal with the Government whereby we will intensify our efforts to tackle fraud and error in the benefits system. As a result of our negotiating, the Government has agreed that Northern Ireland can keep 50% of any savings made through these efforts - likely to be more than £150 million over five years.
For the first time this agreement commits all parties to call for and work together to achieve the disbandment of all paramilitary organisations and their structures, and to accept no authority, direction or control on our political activities other than our democratic mandate alongside our own personal and party judgement.
These and other commitments will be added to the Pledge of Office as a requirement of a person taking ministerial office.
However, we just didn't want warm words. We wanted action. As a result of our efforts, there is now £200m in additional resources dedicated to the police and security services to tackle organised crime and paramilitaries. A new joint agency taskforce will be established and resourced with the aim of putting those still involved in terror and criminality out of business once and for all.
Our top priority has always been to grow the economy and bring more jobs for our young people. The decision to reduce our corporation tax rate from April 2018 to 12.5% will act as a game changer in our efforts to grow the Northern Ireland economy. The additional half billion financial package will allow us to protect frontline services, ensuring we become more efficient in how we deliver for the public.
We have long argued that the actual structures of government needed to change at Stormont.
They needed to evolve as our society moves forward. Step by step we are getting there. Whilst not perfect, this agreement commits to an opposition being provided for after the next election, as well as a reduction in the number of departments. We have also agreed to reduce the number of MLAs.
This agreement represents another milestone along the way as we normalise and build our society.
The agreements and plans we set out represent our desire to overcome the difficulties of the last number of years. We must ensure that through co-operation and common purpose the spirit, vision and promise of the document is fulfilled.