Belfast Telegraph

Leaders play down Maze disagreement

Northern Ireland's quarreling political leaders have played downs claims of a crisis at the heart of the power-sharing institutions during a visit to east Belfast.

Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, who are at loggerheads over a controversial peace centre at the former Maze Prison, appeared to temporarily set aside their differences as they welcomed the creation of almost 1,000 jobs.

The pair, who put forward a united front during a trip to drum up business in New York last month, were once again all smiles for their brief tour of Stream Global Services - a US-based call centre company - which has just announced a £3.3 million investment.

The ministers even donned a set of headphones and sat beside each other laughing.

Mr Robinson joked that the wires were not connected.

Both men admitted there were big problems at Stormont.

Mr Robinson said: "I have never used the word crisis. There are real problems and there always will be.

"This is politics, every day creates another problem on our desk, but problems are there to be solved and that's the business we are in."

The relationship between the First and Deputy First Ministers has become increasingly strained following months of loyalist rioting linked to disputes over flags and parades.

A decision to stage an IRA commemoration parade in the Co Tyrone town of Castlederg, despite opposition from victims of terror, added to the tensions between the two biggest parties.

Earlier this week, Mr McGuinness warned there could be no wider development of the Maze site unless it was on the basis of the peace centre deal - threatening up to 5,000 potential jobs.

Mr Robinson hit back, claiming it was cruel to punish the public over the issue.

Today, Mr McGuinness said: "I have always said whenever challenges and differences appear in the process we all have to be in problem-solving mode. There are severe difficulties but those difficulties have to be resolved and that is our responsibility. We'll see over the course of the next while whether that can be done."

Both ministers spoke with one voice when they said the 993 jobs boost by Stream would benefit the local economy.

Invest Northern Ireland and the Department for Employment and Learning have committed £3.3 million towards the creation of the new posts, which will pay salaries of between £14,000 and £18,000. Around 250 of the jobs will have salaries of around £30,000.

Invest NI offered £2.8 million of support while DEL has given £496,500.

More than half of the jobs are already in place.

Stream's chief executive, Kathy Marinello, said the company - which has more than 50 offices worldwide - was committed to bringing further jobs to the region.

Mr Robinson claimed Northern Ireland was beating all the other UK regions in attracting foreign direct investment.

Mr Robinson said: "It is absolutely fantastic and exactly what we need for Northern Ireland.

"To have so many of these jobs already in place at this new facility is fantastic news for us."

Mr McGuinness added: "Stream's investment underlines our ability to meet the needs of global companies.

"Its expansion is positive news for our economy and creates much-needed jobs that offer flexible employment and the opportunity to develop transferable skills.

"The jobs at this centre will benefit the whole economy through the generation of £14 million per annum in additional salaries."

Meanwhile, Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said there was a high demand for the types of jobs created by Stream.

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