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David Cameron: We must have a greater sense of urgency. That is what the public in Northern Ireland expects and that is what all politicians must now deliver


Prime Minister David Cameron

Prime Minister David Cameron

David Cameron may need the help of the DUP's Peter Robinson to form a new administration after the 2015 General Election

David Cameron may need the help of the DUP's Peter Robinson to form a new administration after the 2015 General Election


Prime Minister David Cameron

This week I am in Northern Ireland to participate directly in the cross-party talks that are now in their ninth week at Stormont. These talks have reached a crucial phase.

As Prime Minister, I am determined to do everything I can to help resolve outstanding issues and secure agreement across a range of vitally important issues.

I know that An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, fully shares that strong commitment.

The agreement we are seeking covers three main areas. First, we need to ensure that the Northern Ireland Executive's finances are put on a stable, long-term footing.

Second, we must find a way forward on the so-called legacy issues of flags, parading and the past in a way that puts victims first.

Third, we have to look at how the political institutions might function more effectively.

Of course this is an ambitious agenda and I do not underestimate the challenges. The issues under discussion are profoundly difficult and in Northern Ireland often very divisive. To state the obvious, if there were easy answers to any of them they would have been found by now.

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Yet my realistic assessment is that we have reached crunch time. If we fail to reach an agreement now, with a cycle of elections approaching, a great opportunity will have been lost.

That is why the UK Government, along with our very close colleagues in the Irish Government, will be pushing hard to bring these discussions to a successful conclusion this week. I am confident, too, that Northern Ireland's political leaders share a genuine desire to reach an agreement.

Under the skilful chairmanship of the Secretary of State Theresa Villiers these talks have progressively intensified over recent weeks with serious engagement across all the issues.

But there is now a clear need to step up a gear. We must have a greater sense of urgency. That is what the public here expects and what elected representatives, including the UK and Irish governments, have to deliver.

The prize on offer is a big one, tackling issues that for too long have held back politics, the economy and wider society.

An agreement genuinely would free up local politicians to focus on delivering real change at Stormont, providing more efficient and accountable government, creating a stronger, healthier economy and building a genuinely shared future for everyone lucky enough to call Northern Ireland home.

And as the Chancellor set out in last week's Autumn Statement, agreement here would also enable the UK Government to bring forward legislation to devolve corporation tax powers to Stormont.

I know that is a key request of politicians and business here. It could prove hugely beneficial to attracting new jobs and investment to Northern Ireland, which is why I am so well disposed towards doing it. But Stormont has to be in the best shape possible to take on such a major power; agreement would be a clear demonstration of that.

So there is an enormous amount at stake as we roll up our sleeves for what we hope will be the conclusion of this process. I want to see a Northern Ireland where politics works, the economy grows and society is strong; a Northern Ireland for the whole community.

Yet today, the credibility and effectiveness of the devolved institutions is on the line.

Northern Ireland's political leaders have shown great skill and leadership over a number of years and the progress and change they have delivered here has been profound.

Time and again they have stepped up to the plate. Along with the UK and Irish governments, the time to do so again has arrived.

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