Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland talks may not be concluded this week, says Villiers

By Liam Clarke

After nine weeks of Stormont talks, the Secretary of State has said they may not reach a conclusion this week and there is still no more money for welfare.

First Minister Peter Robinson attempted to inject some optimism by saying: "I am still hopeful it can be done this week. I would be disappointed if it can't."

However, he conceded that not all parties were likely to sign up to it.

"The SDLP and Alliance have both been positive and expressed an interest. They want to be included. They have given us papers, both of them, so there is a genuine attempt on their part to try and get an agreement and be part of that agreement," he said.

"The UUP, of course, are in an entirely different situation. They are in wrecking mode, they are sitting round waiting like vultures to see if there is something they can peck at."

Earlier, UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said he had "no doubt" the First and Deputy First Ministers would soon unveil some form of agreement. He said he had not yet seen any definitive proposals but expressed fear they would involve borrowing at least £500m more from the Government to address the 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."

But Mr Robinson retorted: "He hasn't a clue what he is talking about nor has he ever when he is talking about numbers".

The First Minister predicted people could have a "good laugh" at Mr Nesbitt when the deal is announced. Mr Robinson was reacting to a TV interview in which Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said there was no resolution on welfare reform, the Government would give no money to help with that and she added that legacy issues "also continue to be very sensitive".

This is a reference to the demand by Sinn Fein and the SDLP that the Government relaxes national security restrictions to reveal the truth about the role of the State in the Troubles.

Mr Robinson didn't take a view. He said: "There are issues between the nationalist parties and the Government. I am not really going to act as referee in that contest. Those are matters that the Secretary of State and the two nationalist parties have got to speak about."

Ms Villiers had said Westminster could legislate on this without the Assembly's support but yesterday she said she was "reluctant" to predict when a deal might be reached. "I think it's increasingly urgent that we get these things settled - of course I'd like to see them settled this week and I will be working very hard to achieve that," she said.

Belfast Telegraph


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