Deadline looms large for Northern Ireland talks

A successful outcome to the talks at Stormont is crucial if corporation tax powers are to be devolved.

A successful outcome to the talks at Stormont is crucial if corporation tax powers are to be devolved

Northern Ireland’s politicians have confirmed this weekend as their deadline for resolving ongoing challenges.

These include how to tackle issues from the past, parading, the flying of flags and the financial difficulties caused by the Assembly’s failure to approve welfare reforms.

The talks, which began in October under the Chairmanship of Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers, will reach a new level on Thursday.

David Cameron and Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny will arrive in Northern Ireland for two days of talks with the five main parties represented at Stormont.

They will do so in the wake of an all-or-nothing warning from Sinn Fein’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness. Speaking yesterday during Question Time at Stormont, he said of the ongoing talks:

“Any agreement short of a comprehensive agreement would be I think held up to public ridicule.”

Noting that an agreement in the New Year would be near impossible as a result of the forthcoming General Election, McGuinness continued:

“So it is absolutely vital that we conclude these discussions.

“I would like to see it done by the end of this week, I am aiming to do that. I think the fact that both the Taoiseach and David Cameron have announced they are coming here on Thursday is a very clear indicator that people recognise that we are coming to the crunch in relation to these talks.”

McGuinness continued by arguing once again that David Cameron has to enter the discussions as a ‘player’ and not just a ‘facilitator’. He insisted that Cameron had to be prepared to ease the financial pressures being exerted on the Northern Ireland Executive by the UK Government’s ‘austerity agenda’.

In comments made yesterday to the BBC, first minister Peter Robinson called for the end of this week to be the deadline for a breakthrough in talks, insisting there was little point extending the deadline if an agreement was not in sight.

Alliance leader David Ford has said there has been ‘no real progress on flags and parades’ but that progress has been made in dealing with the past.

The urgency of the talks was heightened in last week’s Autumn statement, during which the chancellor announced that devolving corporation tax powers would be dependent on a successful outcome to the talks.

The target echoes the Christmas deadline that was set last year for a resolution to similar talks chaired by the veteran US diplomat Richard Hass. The talks ultimately failed.

Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor at Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by becoming a Left Foot Forward Supporter today.