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McGuinness defends Stormont ‘Fresh Start’ deal

Martin McGuinness pictured in his office last week.

By Anthony Neeson

Martin McGuinness has said Sinn Féin were right to reject last December’s Stormont House Agreement and insists the new deal agreed last month will protect the most vulnerable in society.

The “Fresh Start” agreement saw Sinn Féin and the DUP reach an accommodation on welfare reform, corporation tax, as well as the thorny issues of flags and parades.

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However, the Deputy First Minister had harsh words for the British government which blocked any progress on dealing with the past, and the role that successive British government played during the conflict, this by playing the national security card.

“The term national security was not used in the Stormont House Agreement. It was brought into play by the British government during the course of the recent negotiation,” McGuinness said.

“Throughout the course of our negotiation our key negotiators kept in very close contact with the victims’ groups, we were guided by them. The decisions that we took were the decisions that they wanted us to take on the basis that no legislation was better than bad legislation.”

In terms of the role the Irish government played in the negotiations Mr. McGuinness said simply: “The Irish government were there.”

However, he went on: “I was very disappointed that Peter Robinson and I presented a representative of the Irish government with a paper on a Tuesday three weeks ago and on the Thursday morning it appeared on the front page of the Irish Times.”

That story was in relation to the Irish government’s financial contribution to the stalled A5 road project linking Donegal with Monaghan via counties Derry and Tyrone.

“Other comments were also made. For example, that the Narrow Water bridge was described as a vanity project, as if it wouldn’t bring a dramatic improvement to the lives of the people of North Louth and South Down, and other comments were made as well that certainly represented, by the people who briefed it to the media, as not a serious attempt to be part of a negotiation which was dealing with very, very difficult political issues.”

With the Conservative Party likely to be in power in Britain for the next five to ten years, the Deputy First Minister said that a failure to reach an agreement would have seen British direct rule ministers jetting back across the Irish Sea, and people in Northern Ireland would in all likelihood be facing water charges, the bedroom tax, student fees increasing from £3,000 to £12,000, prescription charges, an end to free travel for pensioners, and no mitigation against welfare cuts.

“All of what the Tories (Conservatives) are doing to us is the price of the union,” he said.