Stormont deal covers parades, justice, culture and more

First Minister Peter Robinson (r) and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (l) eventually managed to seal a deal
First Minister Peter Robinson (r) and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (l) eventually managed to seal a deal

The News Letter can offer some of the details of the deal package which has been agreed by Stormont’s main parties.

Among the many aspects of the 14-page deal document signed off by the parties is an agreement that parading powers should lie with the Assembly.

Prime Minister David Cameron. Picture:  Jonathan Porter / Press Eye

Prime Minister David Cameron. Picture: Jonathan Porter / Press Eye

There is also a plan to create a Historical Investigations Unit into Troubles killings – which would be given five years to complete its work.

In addition, the deal envisages the creation of an Independent Commission on Information Retrieval (ICIR) which would be “entirely separate from the justice system”.

The document describes the ICIR’s objective as being “to enable victims and survivors to seek and privately receive information about the (Troubles-related) deaths of their next of kin”. It too would run for around five years.

When it comes to parades, the deal says responsibility for marches and associated protests should be given to the NI Assembly – “in principle”.

Detailed proposals are to be brought forward by June next year, and would then be subject to consultation.

However, the document says that encouraging local-level talks will be key to any new parade regulation system, and adds that “independent adjudication will remain a necessary part of the regulatory process, but should be a last resort”.

Asked if this could mean simply retaining the Parades Commission, UUP negotiator Tom Elliott said: “No, because what’s in the proposals is for the Legislative Counsel to bring forward new legislation. Well, unless the new legislation was to adopt a parades commission. I suppose effectively you could do that, but I don’t think in reality that would happen.”

Both he and the DUP maintained that, as promised, they had not entered into negotiations on the issue of parades at the talks – but simply stated what their positions were.

On the subject of the ICIR, Mr Elliott described it in the following terms: “If my father was murdered, I could go to the information recovery unit and say: ‘look, is it possible to try and find out some information about my father’s murder?’

“That unit can make inquiries and ask people to come and give them information. The information that’s given to them cannot be used then in court.

“But if that information comes from a different source, not through the ICIR, it can be used ... if I went and gave the same information to police, that can be used.”

Among the other aspects of the deal is the creation of what the document terms an “oral history archive”, providing a central point where the experiences of those who lived through the Troubles can be recorded.

The deal adds a “research project will be established as part of the archive, led by academics, to produce a factual historical timeline and statistical analysis of the Troubles, to report within 12 months”.

It also provides for the establishment of a Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition by June 2015, to report in 18 months.

Besides the Troubles-related issues, one of the central sticking points of the whole process had been the refusal, until very recently, of Sinn Fein to accept changes to the welfare system.

The failure to implement these was leading to fines from Westminster, but the deal now notes that legislation to bring them into force will be brought forward in January.

The welfare changes are expected to begin next year, and complete in 2017 at the latest.

It says that “in view of the progress made in the talks” corporation tax is expected to be devolved by 2017, and other measures will be brought forward to “deliver sustainable Executive finances”.

The roughly £2bn package that is envisaged combines some new money from the Treasury with enhanced borrowing access and flexibility.

Around £700m of the loan facility will be used to fund a major public sector restructuring reform programme, which includes a voluntary redundancy scheme.

Martin McGuinness said £500,000 of the new money offered by the Treasury will go towards supporting shared and integrated education in the Province.

Finance Minister Simon Hamilton said: “What we now have is a way forward that will not only see welfare reform proceed with Northern Ireland building on the Great Britain system but will see a sizeable financial package bolstering the Executive’s coffers.”