Belfast Telegraph

Ulster Unionist Party warns over Stormont House Agreement 'uncertainty'

Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt says there are suspicions that
Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt says there are suspicions that "side deals" may have been discussed

By Michael McHugh

The Ulster Unionists have expressed severe reservations about Northern Ireland's political deal.

Party officers called for timely and transparent clarification of outstanding issues and voiced concern about the impact on public finances and side deals following the Stormont House Agreement negotiations.

It came as First Minister Peter Robinson accused Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers of breaking her word after she decided not to establish a panel to examine a parades dispute in Northern Ireland.

The UUP's ruling party executive claimed there had been poor financial management by the leadership of the five-party power-sharing administration.

A statement said: "It notes the Stormont House proposals of 23rd December 2014 and expresses severe reservations about the potential outworkings of the proposals.

"The proposals include many aspects of uncertainty. We call on the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly to provide timely and transparent clarification on the issues."

The UUP is one of the smaller parties in the mandatory coalition.

Leader Mike Nesbitt said: "This is primarily a deal between Sinn Fein, the DUP and the Government. The Ulster Unionist Party was not at the heart of the talks process. We see no reason to become the main cheerleaders and sales force now.

"We will do what's right for Northern Ireland and monitor the implementation to ensure it brings forward better, fairer times for the people."

The talks were convened by Ms Villiers to discuss issues left outstanding from the peace process like contentious flags, parades and the legacy of decades of violence. It also addressed budget problems linked to a deadlock over welfare reform.

Mr Nesbitt said: "The finances still aren't sorted. The facility to borrow billions does not mask the fact that massive further cuts in public expenditure are expected in the financial years beyond 2015/16.

"There is a suspicion, again based on previous bitter experience, that side deals may have been discussed outside the main body of talks. Members remain badly stung by the on-the-runs letters that were smuggled through the system outside of formal negotiations."

The deal overcomes nationalist concerns about welfare reform by enabling the Executive to establish and finance its own top-up fund to support those who will lose benefits when the policies are introduced.

The dispute, and accompanying multimillion-pound Treasury penalties for non-implementation, had threatened the future of the institutions.

While the Executive is still facing a hefty penalty to cover the period when reforms have not been in operation, the sum is much reduced on the £200 million-plus bill it was facing.

The deal will enable ministers to balance the budget in the coming financial year.

Around £700 million of the loan will fund a major public sector restructuring reform programme, which includes a voluntary redundancy scheme.

This proposal is part of efforts to rebalance an economy traditionally over-reliant on state jobs.

The Executive has also been granted the power to set its own rates of corporation tax in an effort to stimulate private sector growth.

This will enable it to better compete for foreign direct investment with the much lower rate of business tax in operation in the Republic of Ireland.

The document sets out steps reducing the number of Executive departments and Assembly members.

New mechanisms, supported by £150 million from the Government, will investigate historic Troubles killings, taking the place of police and the independent police ombudsman. Legacy inquests will remain with the coroners' courts.

Further Reading

Stormont House Agreement: Deal does not alter fact Assembly is seriously dysfunctional 

Theresa Villiers: Let's build on hard-won Stormont deal Stormont deal: Flawed agreement hailed as foundation for a brighter future


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