Fifty eight days after the Fresh Start Agreement ended a financial and political impasse that threatened the survival of the devolved institutions, Secretary of State Theresa Villiers welcomed the return of Northern Ireland’s First and deputy First Ministers, Executive parties and Irish Minister Flanagan to Stormont House for a series of bilateral and roundtable meetings to review progress and focus on challenges ahead.
Since November, new welfare reform legislation has been put in place, a Joint Agency Task Force on organised crime established and a panel appointed to make recommendations on disbanding paramilitary groups. Work also continues with victims’ representatives and others on finding a way forward to address the legacy of Northern Ireland’s past.
In addition, substantial financial support from the UK government has been unlocked by the political deal and is already benefiting Northern Ireland, including:
- £40 million refunded welfare deductions pumped back into Northern Ireland spending
- Up to £200 million capital borrowing unlocked to facilitate a public sector voluntary exit scheme which is projected to save the Executive approximately £160 million each and every year
- Up to £100 million of additional capital borrowing to support additional important investment in Northern Ireland
Speaking as a Six Monthly Update of the Fresh Start and Stormont House Agreements was jointly published by the UK Government, Irish Government and Northern Ireland Executive, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers, said:
The Stormont House and Fresh Start Agreements pave the way towards a brighter, more secure future for Northern Ireland and I am encouraged by what we have achieved together in just a short time. It was clear that everyone at today’s meeting shares a determination to make further progress. I was also delighted to welcome Arlene Foster to Stormont House as First Minister.
The UK Government is working alongside Northern Ireland’s political leaders and the wider community to help build a society where politics works, the economy grows and society is stronger and more united. We are backing the process with political will and influence and financial support. That will continue but in what promises to be a challenging year we cannot afford to slacken pace.
There is a programme for action for the coming months, including full implementation of welfare reform in Northern Ireland and next steps on tackling paramilitary groups. We also agreed that measures to address the legacy of Northern Ireland’s past must be addressed. This Government has made more progress on this issue than any of our predecessors and we are committed to finding a way to implement the bodies in the Stormont House Agreement.
We have a programme which is ambitious but necessary if Northern Ireland is to prosper.
Today’s meeting was the latest quarterly Stormont House and Fresh Start Agreements implementation review meeting. The Secretary of State conducted bilateral meetings with the First and deputy First Minister before chairing a roundtable with Minister Flanagan, the Executive and representatives of political parties:
- First Minister Arlene Foster
- deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness
- SDLP leader Colum Eastwood
- Alliance leader David Ford