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Resolution on the cards as Stormont talks focus on money and national security

By Liam Clarke

Stormont sources have predicted that a deal to stabilise the devolved institutions will be unveiled early next week - but warned there are still hurdles to overcome.

There are growing signs that the marathon talks sessions may soon reach a climax. For one thing, it's the DUP conference next Saturday and the party won't want to go into it with no progress to report. Peter Robinson, the party leader, wants to achieve a deal before plotting his retirement.

The issues are narrowing down to two. They are money and national security.

Money is needed because our budget doesn't balance. This is partly due to the failure to implement Welfare Reform, which led to deductions from our block grant, and partly to overspending in other areas.

The plan is to get as many parties as will agree to ask the British government to help make up the shortfall. There is also talk of getting Westminster to implement Welfare Reform for us to avoid a vote in the Assembly.

National Security is controversial because in sections which deal with the legacy of the Troubles the Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers, retains widespread powers to refuse information on the grounds of national security.

This could occur if relations with a friendly foreign power could be damaged by revealing its help to the security forces. It could also happen if the identity of a State agent, or relatives if the person is dead, could be compromised or listening devices uncovered.

This is mainly a concern to Sinn Fein. Ms Villiers has tried to reassure the party that she will act reasonably but they and the SDLP don't want to take it on trust alone. The DUP are allowing Sinn Fein to pursue this without taking sides but there are doubts in the party that any British government would waive National Security considerations

Declan Kearney, Sinn Fein's National chairperson, yesterday suggested that both the British and Irish government were holding up the talks for self interest.

"The failure of the British and Irish governments to step up to the mark and frustrate the efforts of local parties to secure a final agreement has become a huge problem" he said.

Dr Alasdair McDonnell, the SDLP leader, said that his party would not be pushed into accepting anything on a "take it or leave it" basis.

Belfast Telegraph


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