Cameron Leaves Northern Ireland Talks Without Reaching DealEddie Buckle
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and his counterpart from the Republic of Ireland, Enda Kenny, ended talks with Northern Ireland’s leaders without a deal to bring stability to the political process in the province.
Cameron said the five parties in Northern Ireland’s power-sharing administration failed to reach agreement even though he offered as much as 1 billion pounds ($1.6 billion) in extra funding for the province as an inducement. The two premiers arrived in Belfast yesterday in a bid to wrap up negotiations that are now in their ninth week.
“We made good progress overnight and today but a deal is not going to be possible today,” Cameron told reporters this morning, standing alongside Kenny. “If they come to an agreement then that sort of financial firepower can be brought to bear. But of course, if there isn’t an agreement, then that financial firepower isn’t there.”
Northern Ireland’s semi-autonomous government was set up under a 1998 agreement that ended 30 years of violence between largely Catholic Irish nationalists and mainly Protestant pro-British unionists. Still, politics remains bogged down by disagreements over issues such as the flying of the U.K. and Irish flags and traditional parades by loyalists and nationalists.
“There was no credible financial package offered to executive ministers to allow us to combat the austerity agenda that this British government has been inflicting on us,” Martin McGuinness, Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister and a member of nationalist Sinn Fein, told reporters.
Cameron said a deal would also involve Northern Ireland getting the right to set its own company-tax levels, a step local political leaders have been demanding to better compete with the Republic.
The U.K.’s main corporation-tax rate is 21 percent and will fall to 20 percent in April next year. That compares with 12.5 percent in the Irish Republic.
Kenny told reporters that he believes the province’s politicians “will be able to conclude the outstanding areas of disagreement” and that “good work has been done.”
Still, Sinn Fein, Northern Ireland’s largest nationalist party, attacked the way the talks were conducted. The British and Irish premiers were “exiting after most amateurish ham-fisted episode I have ever been involved in,” Gerry Adams, the party’s president, said on his Twitter feed.
As well as a deal over parades and flags, Cameron and Kenny were seeking to ensure that the Northern Ireland government’s finances are put on a sound footing and looking at how the province’s political institutions might function more effectively.
“As far as we are concerned the process continues,” Peter Robinson, Northern Ireland’s first minister and leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, told reporters. “The absence of the prime minister does not bring that work to an end.”