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‘Fresh Start’ deal agreed at Stormont

Congressman Richard Neal has welcomed the new agreement.

By Anthony Neeson

An agreement at Stormont has been reached between the parties and the two governments after ten weeks of negotiations.

However those involved in the talks have fallen short in dealing with legacy issues from the Troubles.

Nevertheless, the pact was being welcomed in Irish America, first and foremost by Congressman Richard Neal, Co-Chairman of the Friends of Ireland Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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“I welcome today’s agreement in the strongest possible terms. It proves devolved government can work, consensus can be reached, and that politics is the only way forward,” said Neal.

“It is another significant step on the road to a shared future. After ten weeks of negotiations, the elected representatives put the people of Northern Ireland first, and established a plan towards a more prosperous and peaceful society. The power-sharing institutions now have a fresh start, and the hard work of building a more inclusive, stable and bright future on the island of Ireland continues.”

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Martin McGuinness.

Martin McGuinness.

Martin McGuinness.[/caption]

In recent days, Sinn Féin had accused the British government of blocking a deal on legacy issues by citing national security.

The agreement, entitled “A Fresh Start: The Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan,” has agreed a way forward in dealing with welfare reform, paramilitarism and issues around flags and parades.

The agreement also paves the way for the devolution of corporation tax powers which is expected to lead to a reduction of 12.5 percent by April 2018, bringing it in line with the rest of Ireland. A new cross border task force will also be set up to tackle cross border crime.

Extra money has been secured by the Stormont Executive for measures designed to mitigate the welfare changes to help families who will lose out on changes.

The Irish government is also expected to commit £75 million towards a new A5 road link between Donegal and Monaghan, going through Derry and Tyrone, with matching funding from Stormont.

Reacting to the deal, North Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said the political institutions remained the best way to protect people from the worst excesses of Tory austerity.

“At the heart of this agreement is our common commitment to a better future,” McGuinness said.

“The cuts to our welfare budgets, tax credits and our block grant are wrong and unfair. We are determined to do all in our power to oppose this austerity and protect our people and our public services.

“We have secured more than half a billion pounds of additional funding for the Executive, plus flexibilities that can be invested in growth and public services.

“We are providing a package of £585 million to support the most vulnerable in our society and low-income working families.

“We have appointed a panel under the leadership of Professor Eileen Evason to draft proposals on how this money will provide essential support to people on welfare and thousands of families targeted by Tory cuts to tax credits.

“We will continue to do all we can to support those in need. The legacy of the past remains a huge gap in this work. The onus remains on the British government to live up to their responsibilities to victims, in particular full disclosure.

“We also addressed directly the issue of paramilitarism. There can be no place for armed groups in our society. That is why the agreement includes additional resources for policing and mechanisms to challenge armed gangs and criminality.

“Our political institutions are the best way forward. The First Minister and I are absolutely united on this,” McGuinness said.

Speaking from Stormont, Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan, also welcomed the agreement.

“Last Sunday marked the 30th anniversary of the signing of Anglo-Irish Agreement. It is therefore apt that only two days later we can welcome another milestone agreement that moves Northern Ireland towards a better, more stable future, building on the foundations laid by the Anglo-Irish Agreement,” Flanagan said.

"The last ten weeks have seen intensive work involving the five Northern Ireland Executive parties and the Irish and British governments. It was a difficult and challenging process and involved hundreds of hours of meetings. However, through the immense efforts of the parties and the two governments, I am very pleased that we have succeeded in reaching a positive outcome.

"Today marks the second agreement in the space of 12 months. Building on the Stormont House Agreement of last December, today’s agreement is another significant step in normalizing politics and society in Northern Ireland, consolidating the hard won peace on this island.”

Flanagan described the new agreement as “a credible roadmap” for the implementation of many aspects of the Stormont House Agreement and tackling the continuing impact of paramilitarism.

He also thanked the United States for its input.
"I wish to thank Senator (Gary) Hart, and through him convey our appreciation to Secretary Kerry, Vice President Biden and President Obama, for the valued role the U.S. administration played in bringing about this success,” Flanagan said.

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