PRIME minister David Cameron has hailed a new political deal to address a range of disputes at the heart of power-sharing in Northern Ireland.
Broad consensus between the Executive parties and the UK and Irish governments was reached after an 11-week talks process culminated with a marathon 30 hours round of negotiations at Stormont House.
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Mr Cameron said: “I am delighted that a workable agreement has been reached that can allow Northern Ireland to enjoy a brighter, more prosperous future, while at the same time finally being able to deal with its past.”
Crucial to negotiations were the terms of a new £2 billion financial package offered by the UK Government.
Mr Cameron added: “This agreement means the UK Government has been able to offer a significant financial package that opens the way for more prosperity, stability and economic security for Northern Ireland. And it means the parties can now genuinely begin to overcome the key outstanding issues which have been unresolved since the Belfast Agreement.
“This historic agreement has been long in the making and I would also like to pay tribute to all those involved - the Northern Ireland parties, the UK and Irish governments and Senator Hart - for getting us to this position. We will now all work collaboratively to see this through. The people of Northern Ireland deserve nothing less.”
The talks were aimed at reaching agreement on a range of wrangles creating logjams in the administration.
Long-standing peace process disputes on flags, parades and the legacy of the past were on the agenda, as were more immediate budgetary concerns, in particular the Executive’s non-implementation of the UK Government’s welfare reforms.
Negotiations were also focusing on the structures and governance arrangements at Stormont as well.
First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson said the agreement acknowledged that further work would be required on a number of the issues.
“Of course every one of us would have liked to have had a more comprehensive and complete agreement but this is as much and more than we have ever been able to do on these issues in the past,” he said.
“So it is a very significant agreement.”
Irish foreign affairs minister Charlie Flanagan, who was involved in negotiations, said: “Today we are building on the hard-won peace on this island with a new agreement which aims to further reconciliation and foster economic growth.”
The deal has found a resolution to the thorny impasse over welfare reform implementation in the region and will enable the Executive to resolve wider budgetary problems.
The document also envisages new mechanisms for investigating Troubles killings.
But there was limited progress on flags and parades, with the agreement proposing further engagement to resolve those disputes.
The deal will also pave the way for corporation tax powers to be devolved to the Executive in Belfast. In his Autumn Statement, Chancellor George Osborne said he would transfer the much-sought responsibility, but only if progress was made at the talks.
Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said the deal had the potential to give the Executive a “fresh start”.
“And it is a fresh start we need to seize with both hands,” he said.
Flanked by party leader Gerry Adams, Mr McGuinness hailed the fact that agreement had been reached on long standing issues of division between the region’s politicians.
“I think it’s been a remarkable achievement,” he said.
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