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Keep crisis talks close to home

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 28/07/2015

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers
Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers

The sight of Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and Secretary of State Theresa Villiers chasing each other across the Atlantic in a bid to bend the ear of the Obama administration over the latest Stormont crisis is an unseemly spectacle.

Perhaps each did organise their trips independently and their visits to Washington are entirely coincidental in their timing. However, a cynical public will regard that as straining credulity to the limit.

That apart, the question most people on this side of the Atlantic will be asking themselves today is why both of them are in Washington at all.

Long gone are the days when the Clinton administration was willing to play an active part in establishing the peace process here and the President himself was able to take time off from his other world concerns to visit the province and give personal encouragement to the local parties.

Successive US administrations have regarded the Northern Ireland question as being solved as far as they are concerned. In March this year the US Special Envoy to Northern Ireland, Senator Gary Hart, said it was up to the local parties to sort out their problems, especially the impasse over welfare reform.

That is vital because so much hinges on it - including the devolution of power to vary corporation tax rates and the delivery of an extra £2bn in spending power for the Executive.

Senator Hart warned that the failure to agree a new corporation tax rate was driving potential investors away, rather than luring them. Their interest would only return when the Stormont financial crisis was sorted out.

But it is difficult to know what Mr McGuinness or Ms Villiers hopes to gain from their US trips. The American administration is not going to embroil itself in British monetary policy.

There are hints that Mr McGuinness is going to tell US officials that the Stormont institutions are in jeopardy until pressure is applied to Westminster to change its attitude on welfare reform here. The Secretary of State, on the other hand, remains bullish that the Tory government is not for turning.

It is difficult to disagree with those who argue that the problem should be resolved through dialogue between the parties here, not by highwire transatlantic flights of fancy.

Belfast Telegraph

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