Sammy Wilson defends last-minute nature of talks

Sammy Wilson
Sammy Wilson

The fact that the talks have gone “down to the wire” should not dent the public’s confidence in their politicians.

Rather it is a sign of how seriously they were being taken by those involved said DUP MP Sammy Wilson.

Sammy Wilson

Sammy Wilson

It comes as politicians were still enmeshed in negotiations in the early hours of Tuesday morning, as time ticked away before the deadline for a deal on flags, parades, the past, welfare and budget funding.

He said: “Even with the wisdom of Solomon it’s going to be difficult to find a solution which everybody – or even the majority of people – can sign up to on some of these issues.

“Rather than people taking the view of: ‘Oh, here we are, up to the wire again, politicians have had to work at this right nearly up to Christmas Day’, I would hope that people would say this is an indication of how genuine the politicians are in trying to resolve what are very difficult, very divisive issues.”

He said it was hard to find consensus even among a single side of the community on the issues under discussion, “let alone between two polarised communities”.

He added: “You always get the nay-sayers who want to nit-pick. Armchair critics who won’t dirty their hands with any of these negotiations but always like to complain about the outcome and about the process.

“But we are no different in Northern Ireland from other coalitions which people have had to operate in other parts of the world.”

In England, the coalition parties are “not that far apart in ideology”, but cannot agree on a programme for the last year of this Parliament.

When it came to the pessimistic outlook of Camp Twaddell spokesman Gerald Solinas of a deal, he said: “It’s just a bit much for somebody to say ‘look, we haven’t seen this but it’s not going to make any difference’. That maybe shows the mindset of the individual who made the comment – no matter what is agreed they’re just going to be contrary about it.

“It think it’s much better for them to wait to see what the outcome is and make a decision then.”

Meanwhile, the chairman of the Ulster Unionist Party said that the negotiations at Stormont was an example of the kind of “last-minute panic stations” which the business community has now grown sick of.

Reg Empey said the financial crisis – which is now arguably the major subject in the talks process – had been predictable, but suffered from the “usual” lack of planning by the Province’s leadership.

It was put to the former UUP leader (now Lord Empey) that a second year of a massive talks failure would not go down well with the public.

He said: “No, it won’t. And we’re very conscious of that.”

But he said the crisis has been largely “provoked” by a failure to act soon enough on the part of the finance minister and others.

He said: “They have known since June 2013 what the budget was for the year 2015/16 – next financial year. They’ve known for 18 months what that budget was and yet we run into a crisis in October. We’ve had 18 months to get to where we are now.”

Regardless of the impasse over changes to the welfare system – something which has led to fines being levied against the Province from London – he said the figures would still have meant cuts had to be made.

“It’s the usual thing at Stormont – last-minute panic stations. There’s no forward planning and we’re now faced with losing vast amounts of student places and all sorts of crises without anything being properly planned.

“This is sort of last-minute government, and I think most people in the community – especially the business community – are fed up with it.”

Aodhan Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC) which represents around 80 businesses from Argos and Boots to Asda and Lidl, concurred.

“We could agree with the sentiments,” he said.

“What I would say is that business likes certainty; business likes to know what our overheads and incomes and outgoings are going to be in the next five years...

“Now, when we see the first green shoots of recovery, we need our politicians to lead and make sure these green shoots turn into sustainable, positive growth for Northern Ireland.”

Responding to Lord Empey, DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said: “The challenge facing the Northern Ireland Executive is the fact we have a coalition government at Westminster – which he stood for as a candidate in the last election – making clear there would be drastic cuts. And so we’re now struggling with the consequences of policy that Lord Empey stood for in election.”

On the claim of late timing of current efforts to sort out budget issues, he added: “Maybe he could explain why his party therefore voted against any move to make cuts in previous budgets.”