First Minister pledges his resolve to find agreement

DUP leader Peter Robinson after talks at Stormont House in Belfast: Niall Carson/PA Wire
DUP leader Peter Robinson after talks at Stormont House in Belfast: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Peter Robinson has said his party is committed to reaching a lasting agreement on the outstanding areas of difference.

Speaking after the Prime Minister and the Irish Taoiseach left the failed talks on Friday, the First Minister said that, despite some progress, “there remain substantial areas of disagreement”.

He said: “While no agreements have been reached we are committed to continuing to work with other parties and the Government.

“There are areas of the Government paper that require more work and elements of it that are unacceptable as currently presented.

“For our part the financial and welfare issues are central to resolving the current difficulties. It is essential that all parties remain focused if they are serious about delivering for the people of Northern Ireland.”

Mr Robinson said the five Northern Ireland parties involved in the talks held meetings on Friday afternoon and have agreed to further talks next week.

“The Government must also commit to work towards an outcome that allows us to advance a stronger economy and recognises the challenges specific to Northern Ireland,” he added.

While critical of Mr Cameron’s offer of a financial support package, Mr Robinson also claimed the Executive had been unable to test the Prime Minister’s bottom line as Sinn Fein’s stance on welfare reform had undermined their negotiating position.

He said: “I don’t believe we sufficiently challenged the Prime Minister on what his bottom line was on financial issues and we did not do that because we had not ourselves been able to complete agreement on other aspects of the financial issues, namely the matter of welfare reform, and I think the Prime Minister would have had more give in him if he had seen that was going to be resolved.”

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt has warned the failure to reach agreement has threatened the proposed devolution of corporation tax powers to the NI Executive.

Mr Nesbitt said: “The devolution of corporation tax is hanging by a thread. We have argued consistently that the priority issue was a balanced budget and it was clear the Prime Minister flew into Belfast expecting the DUP and Sinn Fein to lead the local parties to a financial agreement.

“His frustration was obvious. It was time for parties to show their bottom lines and when it comes to welfare, Sinn Fein are still not telling anyone how they want to protect the most vulnerable.”