Stormont talks: Difficult issues to dominate agenda

The election of a new Speaker and deputy speakers will be on the Assembly's agenda
The election of a new Speaker and deputy speakers will be on the Assembly's agenda

Dealing with the past, and how any new mechanisms will impact on national security, will be at the forefront of the next round of political talks at Stormont.

Following a week of recess, the parties will resume the attempt to negotiate a way forward on a range of issues – including welfare reform and the status of paramilitary groups.

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt delivers his speech during the annual party conference at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast on Saturday.' Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt delivers his speech during the annual party conference at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast on Saturday.' Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press

The latest draft of the Stormont House Agreement Bill presented to the parties stresses that “any additions or further changes to the Bill need to be agreed in the next few days if we are to meet the parliamentary timetable”.

The proposed Independent Commission on Information Retrieval (ICIR) has been the focus of much debate and the document has been reworded to provide clarity around what might be deemed an ‘amnesty’ for terrorist-related crimes.

A draft, published online on Friday by security correspondent Brian Rowan, said: “The inadmissibility provision could be redrafted to make clearer that no one has an amnesty, rather than the current drafting which refers to “the person” who provides information to the commission not having an amnesty.”

It goes on to say: “The Bill could make it explicit, where there is a potential risk to life or safety, or to national security from disclosure, the commission has the option of either redacting the information or releasing the report, or redrafting the report for resubmission.”

In relation to the new Historical Investigations Unit (HIU), the draft paper states that, as well as Historical Enquiries Team (HET) cases from the PSNI, and the legacy work of the Police Ombudsman, the HIU “could be required to investigate Troubles-related deaths that occurred between April 1988 and March 2004”.

On Thursday, in an apparent swipe at his unionist rivals, DUP leader Peter Robinson claimed that “political snipers” are trying to wreck the prospect of a power-sharing deal.

In a party bulletin published on Friday, Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said he believed the DUP and Sinn Fein had “struck a sticking plaster deal” between themselves – with the support of Alliance in return for “some shiny trinkets”.

Mr Nesbitt also repeated his claims that the intensity of the attacks on his party by both the DUP and Sinn Fein showed the two leaders are “irritated by our strong and principled stand” during the talks process.

He said: “Of course, weeks ago the DUP called for a recess to enable intensive talks at Stormont House. You may question, then, why the talks did not intensify when they got their way?”

Commenting on the prospect of eventual agreement, Mr Nesbitt said: “Whether it goes beyond a three-party deal is the question that will be answered in the next few days.”