Northern Ireland

Stormont talks: Robinson says substance of deal reached

Peter Robinson
Image caption Peter Robinson said they wanted to get 'the widest possible support' for a deal

The DUP and Sinn Féin have reached agreement on the "substance" of a deal at Stormont talks, First Minister Peter Robinson has said.

The DUP leader said "things are going in the right direction" and he was hopeful of a deal this week.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin said "great progress" had been made by the parties.

He said if the British and Irish governments applied the same urgency, a deal was achievable this week.

Image caption Martin McGuinness said negotiations were at an advanced stage

"It's still deal on, but there's more work to be done, and a lot of that work is between the parties and the governments," said Mr McGuinness.

Northern Ireland's five biggest parties have been in negotiations for the last nine weeks about the budget and welfare reform, as well as past and present paramilitary activity.

Mr McGuinness said negotiations had advanced to the stage where "if the governments move as speedily as we have done, all of this could move very quickly".

Mr Robinson said they wanted to "get the widest possible support" for any deal.

"The core of that agreement, the substance, has already been agreed in dialogue terms between Sinn Féin and the DUP," he said.

"We have to then put it into text form in a way that can get the support of the other participating parties - because two of the three other parties, I think, do want to get an agreement they can sign up to - and the two governments."

Image caption Theresa Villiers said welfare reform and legacy issues had not yet been resolved

However, Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers said she was not certain that a deal could be reached in the next few days, and was "reluctant" to make a prediction.

She said there was still no resolution on implementing welfare reform, while legacy issues "also continue to be very sensitive".

"I think it's increasingly urgent that we get these things settled - of course, I'd like to see them settled this week and I will be working very hard to achieve that," she said.

Ms Villiers repeated that the government would not fund a more generous system for welfare in Northern Ireland than elsewhere.

She said this would apply to any top-up scheme that the Northern Ireland Executive might want to introduce to address the needs of anyone adversely impacted by cuts to tax credits.

'Mortgaging the future'

Earlier, Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt expressed concern that any deal would be financed by £0.5bn of extra borrowing powers for Stormont.

Mr Nesbitt said this would amount to "mortgaging the future of the children of Northern Ireland".

However, Mr Robinson said the Ulster Unionist leader did "not have a clue what he was talking about".

The DUP leader said the Ulster Unionists were in "wrecking mode, sitting around like vultures waiting for something to pick at".

The current crisis at Stormont was triggered when police said they believed IRA members had been involved in the murder of a former IRA man.

The parties have also been deadlocked over the issue of welfare reform.

The Northern Ireland parties had agreed on a welfare reform deal in December but Sinn Féin withdrew its support in March.

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