Belfast Telegraph

Political progress key as carrot of more cash dangled

Michael McHugh

Additional funds may be made available to boost Northern Ireland's economy, Theresa Villiers revealed.

She stressed it was up to Stormont's Executive to work with Westminster to tackle issues like sectarianism and creating a shared future.

The Northern Ireland Secretary said her meeting in Belfast with First Minister Peter Robinson, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Eamon Gilmore was very positive.

"This package is about working together with the Executive, the economic package is a good opportunity to take forward initiatives to meet those goals," she said afterwards.

"Our ability to help is not simply the transfer of funding, though additional funds may be part of it, it is about economic reform and working together to make life better for people in Northern Ireland."

London and Belfast ministers have been in talks about economic reforms including devolving the ability to vary the amount of corporation tax paid by large companies to make Northern Ireland more attractive to inward investors.

Ms Villiers is also keen for the Executive to make progress on contentious issues like healing divisions between Catholics and Protestants following months of rioting over changes to the flying of the Union flag over Belfast City Hall.

Stormont ministers are planning to make announcements soon, yesterday's Press conference heard.

The Northern Ireland Secretary said: "They have got even bigger plans which I am sure in due course they will want to share with the people of Northern Ireland as they are thinking in very ambitious ways about how to bridge long-standing sectarian divisions."

The Stormont Executive parties are working to agree a new strategy on community relations.

Alliance and the Ulster Unionists quit a cross-party working group complaining about lack of progress. Mr Robinson said it would be irresponsible to say they were only going to bring forward shared future proposals if the Westminster Government puts its hand in its pocket.

Mr McGuinness said: "There are also other matters that need to be dealt with and decisions need to be made. I believe that decisions will be made in the coming future."

He said issues to be dealt with included contentious parades by members of the loyal orders, unrest over the decision to reduce the number of days the Union flag flew from Belfast City Hall and how they dealt with the legacy of the past.

"We should not allow those issues to hold us back, we should move forward decisively with the projects that will add to the good work," he said.

He added: "Our level of ambition, I hope, is matched by what the British Government is going to consider bringing forward."

He added: "We are going to see a very substantial agreed initiative between ourselves and the British Government which also recognises the very important role that the Irish government have to play."

Belfast Telegraph


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