Stormont House Agreement

Just before Christmas 2014 the 5 main political parties in Northern Ireland managed to cobble together what is now known as the "Stormont House Agreement." This agreement takes its name from the main building in Belfast where the Northern Ireland Assembly is based.

Photo of Stormont Buildings
Stormont Buildings East Belfast

Details of the Stormont Agreement Explained

As you may know Northern Ireland forms part of the UK. The United kingdom Government fund the Northern Ireland Assembly by allocating them funds through what is called a Block Grant. This is done by what is called the Barnett Formula and represents about 93% of the total income that the Assembly has to work with. This figure is around £8 billion.

The current UK Government is run by a coalition of the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party and they are going through a pretty severe "austerity policy." In simple terms that means they are cutting a lot of money that is available to the Public Sector and introducing a lo of welfare reform.

The Northern Ireland parties oppose this welfare reform and have tried to oppose it. As a result of not introducing the welfare reforms to N.Ireland, the UK Government imposed a set of fines on the N.I. Assembly.

Setting the Agreement

The position of the Assembly was that they also knew they wanted to rebalance the economy in N.Ireland as it is hugely dependent on the Public Sector. One way of doing this was to have lower Corporation tax, but to get that they would have to agree to introduce some form of welfare reform and also make a lot of job redundancies in the Public Sector. This was what they agreed to do just before Christmas 2014 in the Stormont House Agreement.

Coming Off The Rails

The Agreement was made and signed off on by the 5 main political parties:

  • DUP
  • Sinn Fein
  • Ulster Unionist
  • SDLP
  • Alliance
It was obvious though even at the early stages that there were differences in opinion in what had been agreed. They proceeded on nevertheless as is what they tend to do and all of them made TV and Radio interviews and clearly stated different understandings.

To no big surprise Sinn Fein suddenly pulled the plug on the agreement when they did not agree with the welfare reform element. That happened in early March 2015 and they are now trying to seek clarification and agree something with the other parties, though mainly with the DUP.

To date and in May 2015 the two main parties Sinn Fein and the DUP look farther apart than ever. Sinn Fein want to fight the austerity budget of the Conservative Government that was recently elected in the UK with a huge majority.

The DUP do not like the welfare cuts either but are trying to work within the UK government framework. So yet again a lack of political agreement means that the Stormont agreement lays in tatters and certainly no sign of any implementation.

2014 Christmas Talk Process in Northern Ireland

So here we go again in 2014 with yet another talk's process in Northern Ireland. Most countries in the world look forward to peace and Christmas around this time of the year. However, in N.Ireland we have yet ANOTHER talk's process, this time involving all the main parties at Stormont and the British Prime Minister David Cameron and the Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

Along with Theresa Villiers, who is the Northern Ireland Secretary of State, they have been supposed to have been talking together now for several weeks. This time last year it was the Haas talks when it was hoped he could convince the parties to agree on the future. This year the talks have been called by Villiers to try and get the budget agreed.

Sinn Fein remained opposed to introducing any form of Conservative (Tory) Welfare policies where as none of the other parties like these reforms, but argue that they have managed to make enough changes to make these reforms palatable to the N.Ireland public.

We remain stuck once again with all of the parties unable to make any types of agreement on flags, parades, budgets, dealing with the past or reform of the current government institutions.

The week beginning the 15th December 2014 is really the last week the politicians have to try and get some agreements in place. If that can happen then there is some chance that the devolved government can continue on. Failure in these talks however, which is highly probably, could once again lead to Stormont and the Assembly collapsing, and Direct British rule returning to the streets of Northern Ireland

Other Related Talks

A few months back voters in Scotland decided to stay as part of the UK. They did however mainly on the promise that they would get more devolved powers to their parliament in Scotland. Wales have also been looking more powers and as such the leaders of all the associated countries that make up the UK met on Monday 15th December 2014.

Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness represented N.Ireland at those talks and were again pushing for more money to allow them to get Northern Ireland through to the next budget. Cameron had agreed, according to all reports, to put £1 billion into the pot, but the N.Ireland Assembly had stated that was not enough.

Stormont House Agreement

The parties did agree a way forward to the surprise of many people. It is at best a rather loose agreement but at least they found a way of moving things forward. In essence N.Ireland relies very heavily on the Public Sector and all of the politicians know that they need to shift this dependence more to the Private Sector. As such the British Government agreed in principle to reduce Corporation Tax. The downside of that is that the parties had to agree to allow up to 20,000 civil servant jobs to be removed on a voluntary redundancy basis.