Belfast Telegraph

Debt warning over deal to save powersharing in Northern Ireland

An anticipated deal to save powersharing in Northern Ireland must not saddle future generations with billions of pounds of debt, the Ulster Unionists have warned.

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said he had "no doubt" Democratic Unionist First Minister Peter Robinson and Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness would soon unveil some form of agreement.

Mr Nesbitt said he had not yet seen any definitive proposals but expressed fear they would involve borrowing at least £500 million more from the Government to address the current financial crisis engulfing the administration.

"I have no doubt that Peter and Martin will appear soon waving that bit of paper promising peace and prosperity in our time," he said.

"That bit of paper will need to be checked very carefully, particularly the finances and the additional debt we expect they want to incur, which will be to mortgage our children's future and to dump the responsibility for their financial mismanagement on future generations. And that is not a fair deal."

The UUP is involved in a wide-ranging talks process at Stormont House alongside the four other main Stormont parties and the UK and Irish governments.

But Mr Nesbitt claimed the "real deal" was being negotiated in a parallel process by the DUP and Sinn Fein in Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness's offices in nearby Stormont Castle.

Noting Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny's meetings with those two parties and Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday, the UUP leader claimed the Dublin government was also having a "huge degree of influence" on the shape of the agreement.

Powersharing has lurched from one crisis to another in recent times, the latest sparked by a murder linked to the supposedly defunct Provisional IRA.

The fallout from the shooting of former IRA man Kevin McGuigan - a murder which prompted the UUP to quit the Stormont Executive - and a range of other disputes creating instability, in particular the dire financial position, are on the agenda in the on-going talks.

Part of the focus is to finally implement proposals already agreed in last year's stalled Stormont House Agreement. That accord gave the Executive access to a £2 billion financial package from the Treasury, primarily in the shape of extended borrowing powers.

Mr Nesbitt claimed the latest deal would involve even more borrowing.

"I've no doubt there is a paper and we are anticipating at least half a billion pounds of additional borrowing," he said.

"We already have debt of over £1,000 per head in this country, compared to £400 per head in Scotland.

"That tells you all you need to know about financial management coming out of Stormont Castle."

A resolution to the long-standing impasse over the Executive's failure to implement the UK Government's welfare reforms in Northern Ireland will be crucial to any breakthrough.

It is understood Stormont's leaders want the UK and Irish governments to commit extra funding to Northern Ireland as part of any settlement.

For the Dublin government, such investment would be in the form of cross-border projects, like the stalled A5 dual carriageway construction linking Dublin with the north west.

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