Political parties in Northern Ireland have agreed to a deal on welfare reform in talks aimed at saving the power-sharing executive in Belfast. The administration is facing £200 million cuts to its budget unless measures imposed by Westminster to reduce the benefits bill are accepted at Stormont.
The position paper on welfare reform the five parties are proposing includes a £2bn package to protects the local economy against possible job losses in the public sector, The Guardian reports. The deal is being considered by the UK Prime Minister’s officials.
“There does seem to have been a degree of progress between the parties. Our response is going to have to take into account the deficit that we inherited and the limited resources we have,” said Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers.
It is now up to British Prime Minister David Cameron to respond to the proposal; however, Villiers said he would not return to Northern Ireland before Christmas.
Said Charlie Flanagan, Ireland’s foreign affairs minister: “Substantial progress has been made in negotiations over the past 24 hours. Intensive engagement continues. We remain firmly of the view that a successful and comprehensive outcome to this process will be in the best interests of the people of this island and are working to that end.”
Discussions surrounding the budget for the devolved government at Stormont as well as controversies left unresolved from the peace process have been part of the negotiations that have continued for 10 weeks in Belfast.
The Guardian reports that despite the agreement on welfare reform, there was no clear sign on Friday that the parties had reached a more comprehensive settlement on issues such as loyalist marches, restrictions on flying the union jack at Belfast City Hall, and how to deal with the violent legacy of the Troubles. However, the parties have agreed on the creation of an independent body investigating Northern Ireland’s recent armed conflict.