London using financial levers to remind Executive of its responsibility to address sectarian divides

East Belfast MP Naomi Long asked a long question [Q7] during Prime Minster’s Questions on Wednesday 13 March. She wanted to know what role he saw for the British and Irish governments “as joint custodians of the agreement” in progressing the outstanding issues of “reconciliation, unequivocal support for the rule of law, and to deal comprehensively with the past and its legacy”.

David Cameron answered:

I think there is of course a responsibility for the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister to work together, and we had a very good set of meetings this week; but the greatest possible responsibility lies with the devolved institutions. It is great that they are working and that the agreement has bedded down, but I would appeal to the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister and all those involved in the Assembly to put away the conflicts of the past, work on a shared future for the people of Northern Ireland, start to take down the segregation, the peace walls and the things that take people apart in Northern Ireland, find the savings from those things and invest in a better future for everyone in Northern Ireland. [emphasis added]

Liam Clarke’s interview with the Secretary of State Theresa Villiers was published in the Belfast Telegraph on Good Friday. A similar tone is struck.

If Northern Ireland wants more economic help from the Government its politicians must build a shared and stable society, the Secretary of State has warned.

Theresa Villiers pledged that Westminster is prepared to fund infrastructural projects here, such as schools and roads – if its conditions are met. The Government is also ready to hand over Ministry of Defence property to the Executive and allow it to keep the proceeds – if it sells off public assets such as Belfast Port.

However, the aid comes with other strings attached.

Ms Villiers said: “We would like to see commitments on building a shared society as part of an overall package. We will be waiting to hear from the Executive what they would do to boost the economy and also what they are doing to address sectarian divides.

“The Prime Minister sees a stable and cohesive society as a crucial part of building economic prosperity.” [emphasis added]

The proposal is to make Northern Ireland eligible to receive funds from the Infrastructure Guarantee Scheme. In one hand it’s a sweetener on the back of the delay in deciding whether or not to devolve Corporation Tax. But it’s also a financial carrot to put pressure on the Executive (and the Assembly) to address shared future issues more seriously than they have up to now.

Liam Clarke’s analysis:

There are other ways to help the Executive, for instance allowing it to sell major assets such as Belfast Port. But any economic package will not provide full value unless the Executive guarantees political stability and reduces sectarian division.

US President Barack Obama added his two cents’ worth:

The people of Northern Ireland and their leaders have traveled a great distance over the past fifteen years.  Step by step, they have traded bullets for ballots, destruction and division for dialogue and institutions, and pointed the way toward a shared future for all.  There is urgent work still to be done – and there will be more tests to come.  There are still those few who prefer to look backward rather than forward – who prefer to inspire hate rather than hope.  The many who have brought Northern Ireland this far must keep rejecting their call.  From building cross-community trust to bringing opportunity to hard-to-reach communities in Belfast and beyond, every citizen and every political party needs to work together in service of true and lasting peace and prosperity.

Fifteen years on from the Belfast Agreement, and six and a half years after the St Andrews Agreement – which the then UUP leader Reg Empey described as the “Belfast Agreement for slow learners” – these are likely to be only two in a whole series of messages from the Prime Minister and the NIO asking Northern Ireland politicians to make more of a difference.

In a small community like this there have been few who have not been touched by the hand of violence and by the murders and atrocities that have taken place. But this generation imagined it could be different. This generation was prepared to dedicate itself to attempting to make it different.

I believe we now have one of the most successful peace processes in the world today. Of course there are difficulties, of course there are obstacles, of course it isn’t easy or straightforward. What is important is that over a period of time you can see the length we have moved.

Those were the words of First Minster Peter Robinson at the TEDxStormont conference on Thursday.

This generation may have imagined it could be different. But this generation are still living, working and playing in communities that are often structurally segregated, with political representatives unafraid and at times impatient to stoke the embers of identity issues, and unwilling to take bold steps to reform.

As David McCann puts it in a post for TheJournal.ie:

Sadly at the moment this process of reconciliation appears to be on auto pilot as politicians have taken their eye off the ball. We are fifteen years on from this agreement and we still have a society and a government for that matter that is essentially based upon what side of the community you come from.

The question for London is how tough will they dare to be with the financial negotiations? And what measures will they use to demonstrate progress towards a “stable and cohesive society”?

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  • Barnshee

    “The question for London is how tough will they dare to be with the financial negotiations?”

    The can be a tough as they want– they have painted the local politicians into corner—– -Hallelujah

    What can the N I politicians do about it?

    Answers on the edge of stamp please

  • Comrade Stalin

    I think it’s a remarkable achievement that Naomi has been able to get the Prime Minister to promote Alliance policy on the fact that moving towards a shared future, shared space approach is the only way to provide long-term security for devolved government and economic prosperity here.

  • sherdy

    Was that quoted speech really by the same first minister who ranted and raved, and wasn’t far from inciting violence over a democratic vote at Belfast City Hall in December?
    Has he got two attitudes to every situation – one nearly moderate and the other the totally bigoted Robbo of old?

  • Gopher

    The money is there we just don’t to be stupid

  • Framer

    Long winded as always from the east Belfast MP, and trite – the answer from the PM was no different.
    And they get paid for such tosh.
    The GFA created a sectarian division of the spoils.
    Surprise, surprise; they are following it to the letter.

  • Barnshee[2.24] Those Unionist politicians who favoured the Corp Tax cut must now fret that they and we could end up with the worst of both worlds. ie a refusal by London to give any ground on CT but the seed of expectation will have been planted for any future chancellor that the once taboo subject of the cut in the block grant will have be broken and since whitehall and nr 11 will say ‘they have got used to the idea of a sizeable cut in the subsidy now so they are primed so we’ll follow through and they’ll be left kicking themselves for having set the precedent’ London would surely grab this chance to take away a big chunk of billions
    from us. After all there’s nothing in the GFA about financing this place. It’s all about principles innit?

  • Barnshee

    “the seed of expectation will have been planted for any future chancellor that the once taboo subject of the cut in the block grant ”

    There is no taboo – block grant is declining long term – a welcome event–heralds the end oft he dependency culture –a society bullied into providing housing and income support far beyond its capacity to pay, for such “entitlement”

    Also hopefully putting some pressure on the situation where the otherwise unemployable are “political advisers on 90K pa and barely literate MLA`s swan around on £40_50 (+ expenses .)

    Reducing block grant is the only way to pressure these arsholes.

  • DC

    The Alliance Party is a loose cannon in NI politics, only serving to destabilise things and ruining political and community relations in the process.

    Before the flag decision at City Hall I don’t think even the Alliance Party expected things to turn out as they have done. But here’s the thing, they have.

    So what I have learned is that there has been a cause and effect to this all and Alliance have some blame, it’s a bit like Hitler going into Russia to stop Bolshevism from ending up on Germany’s door only to end up with the exact opposite, a soviet east Germany.

    On that basis Alliance thought by defeating unionism on this it could get a shared future by bizarrely cutting a deal with political nationalism, only to find British nationalism and BNP types turning up on its door.

    Alliance is now baffled as to why doing deals with irish nationalism doesn’t actually lead to a shared future, as a party it appears not to want to own up to its own role in producing the exact opposite of a shared future, namely divisions, political fall out and bitterness.