A Fresh Start

Today the Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers and the Foreign Minister, Charlie Flanagan, along with the First and Deputy First Minister announced a new deal on devolution, welfare reform and paramilitarism. The document is 67 pages long and took around 10 weeks to negotiate. Here is a short round up of the Stormont House Agreement.

The new agreement contains;

  1. Gives the Executive additional UK government financial support of £500 million to assist the Executive in tackling issues unique to Northern Ireland, including support for removal of peace walls. This is over a four year period. (This does not include new borrowing powers, but maintains what was agreed last year).
  2. Corporation Tax devolved by April 2018 (originally supposed to be April 2017).
  3. Allow measures to address the issues of flags and parades to go ahead (Advisory panel agreed at Stormont House last year to go ahead).
  4. Introduce institutional changes to make devolution work better (size of the Assembly, number of departments. use of petition of concern and provision for an official opposition).
  5. Paramilitary activity- Fresh obligations on Northern Ireland representatives to work together on their shared objective of ridding society of all forms of paramilitary activity.
  6. Concerted and enhanced effort to combat cross border crimes (This starts with a tripartite meeting in December to start the process of cooperation between Gardai and PSNI).

Some side notes;

The Irish government has committed 119 million Euros up to 2019 to develop the North-West region. 75 million of which will go towards building the A5.

On the fines over failure to implement Welfare Reforms, they end tomorrow with the passage of legislative consent motion. Plus a pledge that no fines will be implemented in the next financial year.

There is no agreement on legacy issues, but the Secretary of State committed to continue working to find an agreement.

There is agreement on the entitlements for an official opposition (page 55) which will be done through amendment of standing order, rather than primary legislation. Presumably this kills McCallister’s Opposition Bill.

Reaction from parties;

David Ford from Alliance;

Alliance proposed an adjournment until next week, to allow proper scrutiny of what should be major government decisions that have potentially deep, long-term implications.

Unfortunately, other parties would not agree and insisted on steamrollering this process through. We refuse to sign the people of Northern Ireland up for a future which hasn’t been thought through.

While we cannot fully endorse all of this deal today, Alliance will play a full and responsible role to implement the parts that make sense for the good of society, and hold others to account on their commitments.

Martin McGuinness from Sinn Fein;

We have secured more than half a billion pounds of additional funding for the Executive plus flexibilities that can be invested in growth and public services.

We are providing a package of £585 million to support the most vulnerable in our society and low-income working families.

 We have appointed a panel under the leadership of Professor Eileen Evason to draft proposals on how this money will provide essential support to people on welfare and thousands of families targeted by Tory cuts to tax credits.

 We will continue to do all we can to support those in need.

 The legacy of the past remains a huge gap in this work. The onus remains on the British government to live up to their responsibilities to victims, in particular full disclosure.

 We also addressed directly the issue of paramilitarism. There can be no place for armed groups in our society. That is why the agreement includes additional resources for policing and mechanisms to challenge armed gangs and criminality.

 Our political institutions are the best way forward. The First Minister and I are absolutely united on this.

The First Minister said;

Undoubtedly at the heart of this agreement is a desire to build a better Northern Ireland for all our citizens.  We set out further steps to develop our economy, support those most vulnerable, assist working people and build on the political progress to date.  The decision to reduce our Corporation Tax rate from April 2018 to 12.5% will we believe act as a game changer in our efforts to grow the Northern Ireland economy.  The additional half billion financial package will allow us to protect front-line services ensuring we become efficient in how we deliver for the public.

Our agreement contains details of the steps we will take as an Executive, as well as those to be taken by the UK Government, on welfare reform and sets out measures to support those working people who may suffer from a reduction in tax credits.  The UK Government will pass a Northern Ireland Welfare Bill at Westminster following a debate in the Assembly tomorrow.

The Executive will provide £345 million for welfare top-ups and £240 million for tax credit support over the next four years.  We have asked Professor Eileen Evason to lead a small working group to bring forward proposals and the Executive will implement the findings of the group.  In my view this represents a sensible way forward and will ensure we have both a fair and affordable welfare system while recognising the need to help those who are also in work.

Today represents another milestone along the way as we normalise and build our society.  The agreements and plans we set out represent our desire to overcome the difficulties of the last number of years.   We must ensure that through co-operation and common purpose the spirit, vision and promise of the document is fulfilled.

Full audio of the press conference is here.

  • murdockp

    As ever a raft of policies that allow SF to suck even more milk from the British teat.

    very little business strategy. the law as written for corporation tax reform will not deliver anything as in 2018 the mainstream uk corporation tax rate will be 18% a difference of 5.5%.

    in short the socialists are popping champagne corks. the business community watch in despair as the can is kicked down the road… again…

  • Greenflag 2

    There is no agreement on legacy issues,

    What exactly are ‘legacy ‘ issues -briefly anybody ?

  • Dominic Hendron

    Not sure but I think it involves 800 something or other

  • Brian O’Neill

    Dealing with past. Victims. Historical investigations etc.

  • Thomas Barber

    It more or less means Sinn Fein wont agree to the British government using “National Security” issues to cover up the British governments role and the roles of its state agents in 100s of murders.

  • Greenflag 2

    Thanks . I should have guessed . Bang goes legacy as being a positive then. By the time they finish with the past assuming they ever do finish with the past -the future will be so far ahead of them that they’ll never even catch up with the present 🙁

  • Greenflag 2

    thanks -I guess you used to be indecisive but now you are not so sure 🙂 I don’t think its the 800th anniversary of the NI troubles although sometimes it seems like it could be ;(

  • Greenflag 2

    Thanks so presumably HMG doesn’t agree with SF using their smokescreen to cover up their murders ? So its 0-0 then again .

  • Greenflag 2

    Did you seriously expect anything else ? Keeping the lid on is the name of the game at this stage .

  • Granni Trixie

    I would have avoided the ‘fresh’ labelling after the NI21 fiasco – r,ember their “fresh new politics” catchphrase?

  • Granni Trixie

    I presume it means “dealing with the past” – a scheme(s) for bringing information out into the open with or without the threat of court cases as well as initiatives to meet the needs of people hurt in the troubles. Part of the problem here is ofcourse that thorny problem of the definition of “victim” – as enshrined in legislation it is more comprehensive than some would like – a sticking point for some. The key is to engage joined up thinking and produce a comprehensive plan, something lacking in current piecemeal arrangements.

  • Granni Trixie

    Ought to have added – a plan to address legacy issues will require extra monies arguably one area where a solid case could have been made for extra resources from British government. Without extra resources these problems will be kicked down the road.

  • Jag

    Will those in receipt of social welfare payments in Northern Ireland, including tax credits where family income doesn’t reach certain thresholds, see any cuts in their payments?

    Will future claimants see any cuts from rates payable today?

    I think there will be cuts to tax credits, and I think there will be cuts to new claimants, but you can’t get a straight answer from participants in the talks.

    Any views?

  • Greenflag 2

    Thanks GT for that .Sounds good but then a lot of ideas sound good until they hit the political and economic reality of NI ..
    I guess everybody should be relieved that this ‘breakdown ‘ only lasted a few months – was it 4 ? -instead of 40 years .

  • Greenflag 2

    Its a case of not having your cake and eating it . The shortfall in revenue if the 12.5% came in this year is offset against a welfare spending reduction .

    While I’m sure a reduction in corporation tax will help the private sector in NI -its about 30 years late . The fact that Britain is also reducing it’s corporation tax is just part of globalisation as countries , states , regions , cities , peripheral economic zones all struggle to bring in private investment to build or rebuild economies . There is an element of the fallacy of composition in all of this i.e when everybody reduces corporation tax then nobody reduces corporation tax . The optimal time would have been back when NI started losing it’s larger industries in the Belfast region back in the mid 1970’s just about the time of the Sunningdale failure .

    Cutting the overall welfare bill before economic and social improvements are seen from increased inward investment could be counter productive . There are structural issues within the NI economy such as the high rates of worker disability which result from a low wage economy plus political insecurity . No quick fix no matter which way . Overall though its better than nought .

  • Neil

    I would suggest that it’s inevitable, unless Jeremy Corbyn wins in 2020, and we can hold out until then. You can draw your own conclusions on the likelihood of a JC win in 2020, I would suggest it’s a slim chance and shrinking daily. After all, why bother handing power to the Tories unless something was coming down the line and plausible deniability was required as to whom was responsible.

  • murdockp

    I would like to agree with the intent of the 12.5% CT rate, however the reality is different

  • Greenflag 2

    Economic reality is much the same everywhere now . Many people including politicians haven’t completely grasped what globalisation actually means in practice and how it crosses over not just with business , investment and normal trade but with a 5 trillion dollar international currency market which exists solely for the purpose of making paper profit transactions on changes in currency values .

    I digress – What ‘reality ‘ are you referring to exactly ?