Belfast Telegraph

Peace talk agreement 'crucial'

The consequences of not reaching agreement in the Northern Ireland peace talks would be "dire" for the political process, a senior minister has warned.

Talks involving the British and Irish governments and the parties will recommence tomorrow.

Negotiations are aimed at resolving issues left over from the peace process like contentious parades, flags and the legacy of past violence as well as an impasse over the budget at Stormont.

Senior Democratic Unionist Arlene Foster said: "The consequences of not injecting realism into the talks will be not just dire for the political process but for the people of Northern Ireland.

"We have had a stable government since 2007 which has allowed us to build the economy. If we get into a situation where we don't have a stable Executive, then that will play out in ordinary people's lives."

This week has been billed by the Northern Ireland Secretary as a crunch time for cross-party talks in Belfast and she said she believes a pre-Christmas deal is crucial.

Theresa Villiers is worried that unless agreement is reached this week, the House of Commons will run out of parliamentary time to give the Northern Ireland Executive powers to reduce the rate of tax imposed on corporations before next year's general election, a key plank of the administration's plans to boost economic regeneration.

Last week David Cameron and Irish premier Enda Kenny left Belfast after failing to break the deadlock.

The DUP and Sinn Fein, the two largest parties in the devolved powersharing Executive, are at loggerheads over changes to welfare. Socialist Sinn Fein oppose what they describe as cuts to support for the vulnerable driven by Westminster's austerity agenda.

The DUP argues that it has secured the best deal possible.

DUP First Minister Peter Robinson has dismissed an offer of further financial help from Mr Cameron but said disunity over welfare reform had damaged Northern Ireland parties' bid to secure a better deal.

Ms Foster, enterprise minister in the ministerial executive, said: "There needs to be an injection of realism into this talks process."

She added there may be a little more flexibility on finances from Mr Cameron but not the scale of flexibility Sinn Fein have been looking for.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said that he did not know if there would be a deal by Christmas.

He said that a comprehensive agreement was still possible and that there was no willingness of anybody in the Executive to collapse the institutions.

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