Are the wheels coming off the Stormont agreement?

DUP first minister Peter Robinson has accused Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers of “breaking her word”.

DUP first minister Peter Robinson has accused Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers of “breaking her word”

Just weeks after the UK and Irish government’s agreement over tackling tricky issues around Northern Ireland’s past – including parades, flags and tackling a financial crisis as a result of Stormont’s failure to approve welfare reforms – it looks like the wheels could already be coming off.

Speaking yesterday to BBC Northern Ireland, DUP first minister Peter Robinson accused Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers of “breaking her word” over a parading dispute.

In October last year the secretary of state had pledged to establish a panel to resolve a standoff at Twaddell Avenue. Unionists, alongside members of the Orange Order, had called for a graduated response following the Parades Commission’s decision not to allow Orangemen to walk past the Ardoyne shops on the Twelfth of July.

However last month the Northern Ireland Office announced it would abandon plans for such a plan as a result of a lack of support from some of the key players. The decision however has led to unionist cries of shame.

Speaking on Good Morning Ulster yesterday, the first minister explained:

“I had no idea that it was being brought to an end, the secretary of state was not going ahead with it.

“I would have thought that, as someone who had spoken to her on a number of occasions in relation to the parades panel,  that she would have come back to us to tell us what her decision was before she would have gone public.”

His comments came after the Ulster Unionist Party provided less than enthusiastic support for the agreement reached at Stormont just before Christmas.

Following a meeting of the party’s executive over the weekend, the resolution passed speaks of “severe reservations about the potential outworkings of the proposals”.

It continues:

“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 Ulster Unionist Party Executive supports the Party Assembly Group in assessing any relevant legislation or policy that comes forward from the proposals, and deciding, when required, what direction to take on such legislation or policy; and where necessary the Leader recalling this Executive to provide updates.”

Providing further detail of the UUP’s position, the party’s leader Mike Nesbitt MLA outlined four main areas of concern about the agreement.

“Firstly, this Agreement is a declaration of intent regarding direction of travel. The detailed route maps will only become clear when the enabling legislation is tabled. We want to see how that works out, bearing in mind previous experience. We need look no further than St Andrews, to see that what was agreed in Scotland in 2006 was not what was legislated for in 2007.

“Secondly 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.

“Thirdly, there`s 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 OTR letters that were smuggled through the system outside of formal negotiations.

“Fourthly, 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.”

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

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