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Politics Amp Policy
PM offers ‘generous’ Ulster deal
From the Financial Times of Mon, 22 Dec 2014 18:56:55 GMT
David Cameron©AP

David Cameron

David Cameron has offered a “generous” financial package to the leaders of Northern Ireland to encourage them to resolve the political and sectarian legacy of the violence that plagued the province for three decades until the 1990s.

The UK prime minister has come under fierce pressure from the Democratic Unionist party and Sinn Féin, the two largest parties in the devolved assembly in Belfast, to underpin any political agreement with a large cash offer to soften the blow of looming public spending cuts.

A round of intensive talks over the weekend on a range of issues that have split the parties for months included a conference call between Mr Cameron and Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, the first minister and deputy first minister of Northern Ireland.

Theresa Villiers, the Northern Ireland secretary, said on Monday that the financial package on offer to secure a deal “is a positive and a generous one”.

However, she said the package was conditional on the parties reaching a broad agreement on the issues that divide them — welfare reform and the highly sensitive questions of flag-flying, parade routes and dealing with the legacy of the violence. She added that the financial package needed to reflect the constraints of the UK budget and be seen as fair by the rest of the UK.

Sinn Féin had been demanding that the UK agree to a £2bn financial package over 10 years to boost the assembly’s spending power. It is understood that Mr Cameron has offered £1.5bn.

Ms Villiers is chairing the talks in Stormont, the seat of the devolved assembly, along with Charlie Flanagan, the Irish foreign minister.

An attempt by Mr Cameron and his Irish counterpart, Enda Kenny, 10 days ago to cajole the parties into a deal before Christmas during a trip to Belfast ended in failure. However, the parties kept negotiating, and Mr Robinson said on Monday that a deal may be possible. “There is a real chance to do the job,” he said, adding that Mr Cameron had put “real money” on the table in a paper distributed to the five parties earlier on Monday.

The five parties are under increasing pressure to bring the talks to a successful conclusion before Christmas. People familiar with the talks said there was a chance that Mr Cameron and Mr Kenny could return to Belfast to sign an agreement if one were reached, given the weight the two governments have put on the negotiations.

The risk of failure remained high, the people said. They recalled that exactly a year ago a comprehensive agreement resolving many of Northern Ireland’s legacy issues, drawn up by the US diplomat Richard Haass and heavily backed by the White House as well as the governments in Dublin and London, was rejected by the parties at the last minute, just before Christmas.

Ms Villiers warned on Monday not to repeat that failure. “We can’t go on with this process indefinitely,” she said. “Right from the start all the parties said Christmas was the deadline. Today has to be it.”

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