Belfast Telegraph

Parties edging closer to Stormont deal

Robinson and McGuinness to ask other leaders to back their proposals

By Liam Clarke

As the talks to resolve the Stormont crisis enter the final stage, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness are today expected to ask other party leaders to back a deal with David Cameron.

Yesterday Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who is due to meet the Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street this afternoon, expressed his optimism that a deal will be done.

The talks moved into a higher gear on Friday morning when the First and Deputy First Ministers met Mr Cameron privately in Downing Street.

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers was also involved in the private discussions, which were revealed by Martin McGuinness in a tweet.

"Heading over Glenshane after Downing Street meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron. Now listening to Finn Harps decider," he wrote.

It is understood that Mr Cameron had agreed to see the First and Deputy First Ministers once they had a plan for how to implement the Stormont House Agreement.

That was a deal concluded at the end of last year but never implemented after Sinn Fein and the SDLP disowned the financial provisions. It committed Northern Ireland to introducing welfare reforms in line with Britain, which is now penalising Stormont for overspending.

The two Northern Ireland leaders have not handed their proposals to Mr Cameron and asked him for increased funding.

One source mentioned £800m for items other than welfare, including legacy issues from the Troubles such as mental health, stress and educational underachievement.

The next step is to put the plan to the other party leaders over the next couple of days and seek as much consensus as possible. The most problematic is the UUP whose leader, Mike Nesbitt, has already warned that it may be a two or three party deal.

That implies that his party, and possibly the SDLP, could oppose it. Their reactions will be watched closely today and tomorrow because if they pull out and pick holes in any deal it makes matters more difficult for the DUP and Sinn Fein with an election looming.

Despite the difficulties, the main players have been allowing expectations of a deal to build.

The latest was Mr Kenny who yesterday attended the Remembrance Sunday ceremony in Enniskillen.

He told reporters: "I'm very hopeful and happy that the reports I'm getting are that a deal is on here. I do hope it can be concluded successfully in the next couple of days."

If a deal is on the cards, the Irish premier will be expected to contribute funds towards the dualling of the A5 road, which runs through Northern Ireland from Donegal to Monaghan.

He will also be expected to cooperate on issues like dealing with the legacy of the Troubles.

Last Thursday both Ms Villiers and Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein leader, now back from America, expressed hope that a deal could be reached. "I think there has been some progress on certain issues, the gap is closing, but it is still a very difficult task," she said.

Speaking in the US, Mr Adams said: "I expect these negotiations will come to a conclusion soon. They are dealing with budgetary matters and sustainable political institutions. The new political dispensation requires a workable budget."

Meanwhile, the DUP has rubbished fresh claims that party leader and First Minister Peter Robinson is set to step down from both positions this week.

Last night a party spokesman said: "On July 13, the same journalist published a similar story. Time proved him wrong. It's a case of deja vu. I'm sure that this won't be the last time he gets it wrong."

Belfast Telegraph


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