Stormont deal held up by stand-off on national security

Simon Hamilton is confident a deal will be agreed, but is not sure how comprehensive it will be
Simon Hamilton is confident a deal will be agreed, but is not sure how comprehensive it will be

An impasse over how much information the Government will disclose on its role in the Troubles is holding up a deal to save powersharing in Northern Ireland.

The stand-off between Sinn Fein and Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers effectively dashed hopes of an agreement being struck this week.

With Ms Villiers returning to England over the weekend to attend to constituency business, negotiations in Belfast involving the main Stormont parties and the British and Irish governments are now set to continue next week.

It is understood the basis of a broad agreement has been reached between the two major parties in the coalition Executive – the DUP and Sinn Fein – but the logjam over disclosure stands in the way of an overall deal.

It is also not clear if the three other main Stormont parties – the Ulster Unionists, SDLP and Alliance – will sign off on any proposals, even though their support is not theoretically required for them to be implemented.

The main obstacle relates to republican and nationalist concerns around the Government’s position on potentially withholding some information, on national security grounds, from new Troubles truth recovery mechanisms.

Some issues remain to be resolved around finances, including welfare reform implementation and governmental investment commitments, and the shape of proposed cross-border initiatives to tackle the ongoing scourge of paramilitarism, but it is understood those matters are not viewed as insurmountable.

But either Sinn Fein or the Government will need to give significant ground on disclosure for a comprehensive accord to be reached.

The DUP Health Minister Simon Hamilton said he remained hopeful an agreement could be struck, but expressed doubt on its reach.

“I don’t think at this stage there is any doubt there will be an agreement – the question is how comprehensive that agreement will be both in terms of its contents and also in terms of how many parties will support that agreement,” he said.

Sinn Fein’s national chairman Declan Kearney blamed both the British and Irish governments for the latest wrangle.

“The influence of Britain’s military establishment and security and intelligence agencies is the major factor in reinforcing the Westminster Government’s intransigence against full disclosure of the truth about its role in the conflict,” he claimed.

“The Irish government has chosen to play a subservient role by aiding and abetting the primacy of these British state interests within this negotiation. The role played by it has been both irresponsible and disgraceful.”

He added: “The future viability of the political institutions are dependent on a comprehensive political agreement. That is still possible, but the negative and divisive approach of the British and Irish governments must end.”

Irish minister for foreign affairs Charlie Flanagan said a “number of key issues” remained outstanding before any agreement.

“The talks will continue on Monday with a view to a reaching an early agreement,” he said.

“In the meantime, both governments will remain in touch over the weekend.

“I encourage all the parties to continue their positive engagement. With collective commitment and leadership on the part of all involved, a positive outcome can be achieved.”

A regular cross-border meeting of political leaders from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland was postponed on Friday to facilitate the talks.

The scheduled North South Ministerial Council (NSMC) was due to be attended by First Minister Peter Robinson, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, Irish premier Enda Kenny and deputy prime minister (Tanaiste) Joan Burton but the Stormont leaders stayed in Belfast to continue talks.