A “positive and generous” UK government financial offer to Stormont is conditional on its leaders striking a comprehensive deal on the range of disputes facing the administration.
The North’s Secretary Theresa Villiers said the new package of support drawn up by UK Prime Minister David Cameron over the weekend would only be forthcoming if progress was achieved on all the issues on the agenda in the political talks.
Ms Villiers outlined the caveat ahead of entering what she has warned is the final day of negotiations in a process now entering its 11th week.
Mr Cameron has spent the last few days examining a financial proposal from the parties that could settle budgetary problems facing the power-sharing administration, particularly the impasse over non-implementation of welfare reforms.
Ms Villiers said his response to their request for £2bn-plus of extra funding and loan access over the next decade would be given to the party leaders at the start of the talks today.
But while the region’s politicians have agreed a potential way forward on finances, consensus is still proving elusive on other destabilising wrangles on the talks’ agenda, such as those on flags, parades, the legacy of the past and the structures of Stormont.
Ms Villiers said progress was needed across the whole talks agenda for any financial accommodation to be reached between the UK government and Stormont ministers.
“We have done some intensive work over the weekend, we believe our response is a positive and a generous one but it does obviously also have to reflect the constraints we face, the reality of an extremely difficult fiscal situation and, of course, the need to be fair to all parts of the United Kingdom.”
She added: “The financial offer is conditional on reaching agreement on the broad range of the issues on the table at the talks.”
Ms Villiers said she was not prepared to let the talks drift into tomorrow and said they would end today, with or without agreement.
She said “seven or eight” points of disagreement still needed to be bridged.
“It could be a very long day but I think it is very important that we all seek to grasp this opportunity,” she said.
The financial proposal from the Stormont parties essentially addressed long-standing nationalist concerns over introducing the UK government’s welfare policies in the North by establishing a significant “cushion” fund, drawn from the Executive’s budget, to support those hardest-hit by the changes to the benefits system.
It is understood the package put to Mr Cameron by the five parties envisages UK Treasury penalties for delayed implementation of welfare reform being waived; increased borrowing powers to fund a civil service voluntary redundancy scheme; and a multimillion-pound Government contribution to fund new mechanisms to investigate the legacy of the Troubles.