Belfast Telegraph

Stormont's big two on same page... agreement is close

By Liam Clarke

At last we are seeing signs of a common approach and language between the DUP and Sinn Fein.

That will raise hopes of a deal to preserve devolution in the next week or so, but there are fresh obstacles.

Both big parties, and the small ones too, would agree that, as Mr Robinson put it yesterday, there are "still differences across all four areas" under discussion.

The trickiest issue is money because that keeps changing.

Since the Stormont House Agreement the Tories have got an absolute parliamentary majority and, freed of the restraining hand of their former partners in the Lib Dems, they now plan to cut more deeply and sharply into the welfare system than before.

The joint tactic of Sinn Fein and the DUP to ease this problem is to ask London for more money for non-welfare issues which set us apart from other regions. These include mental health and trauma from the Troubles, an ill-educated section of our youth and our problems as a peripheral region.

Strictly speaking, the DUP has moved onto Sinn Fein's ground on this issue, though they had warned of the dangers of cutting too deeply before. Sinn Fein has moved to accept the DUP argument that Britain will not subsidise us to run a more expensive welfare system than the rest of the UK. They have also moved onto the DUP's, and the British government's, timetable of the end of this month for agreement.

If a deal is coming, this is what we would expect to see, just as we saw Sinn Fein and British ministers starting to use the same language in previous peace deals. So we are in a pre-deal situation and both big parties need one.

However, that does not guarantee that they will succeed.

Over the next week, maybe longer, they need encouragement from voters and the government that they will not be punished if they do what they were asked to do and form a stable government.

Theresa Villiers has spelt out her requirements. Her government knows that even if parties agree, no deal will stick for long without financial backing.

That is the lesson of the last year.

Belfast Telegraph


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