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The Briefing

New Decade New Approach – Political Update

by Aiken PR

10/01/2020

After a night of intense political activity NI parties are considering the details of the draft deal, including the compromises they will need to make in areas including culture and identity and petition of concern amongst others. 

Notably, the focus of the needle is firmly on Sinn Fein’s response following the DUP leader’s positive statement which said that the document ‘represents compromise outcomes’. 

As we await SF’s response, internal and external meetings across political parties have been on–going all morning with others yet to fully respond.

The document, entitled ‘New Decade New Approach’, published by the British and Irish governments (attached with synopsis below) sets out a framework for the restoration of the institutions including key areas for financial investment and a renewed Programme for Government.  Infrastructure investment features prominently within the document.

The UK government has said that a financial package to immediately address funding challenges in areas including health and infrastructure will only be available if the Assembly is restored. 

The governments want the parties back in the assembly later today or Saturday, and if there is no deal by 23:59 GMT on Monday, SoS, Julian Smith has a duty to call an election. Speaker Robin Newton has stated he will not recall the assembly until a cross–party agreement is gained. 

We will learn soon whether or not this bold move by the British and Irish governments will be enough to restore the institutions which have now been suspended for three years. 

See synopsis below;  

Health

  • The new Executive will settle the on–going NHS pay dispute
  • Outline a new action plan to tackle waiting times
  • Deliver 900 new undergraduate places for nursing and midwifery
  • Publish a new mental health action plan
  • Address Health and Social Care reform, implementing recommendations from reports such as Power to the people
  • Deliver a new medical graduate campus at UU Magee

Education

  • Settlement of teachers’ industrial action
  • A sustainable core budget for every school
  • An external review of education provision
  • A new framework for special educational needs
  • A new specialist group to examine links between socio–economic background and educational performance

 

 

Trade and the Economy

  • In response to Brexit, the parties have recognised the need to invest in future of Northern Ireland with a focus on sustainable productivity and trade
  • Part of the strategy to boost the economy will include the delivery of vital infrastructure projects such as the York Street interchange project
  • The Executive will take advantage of the economic potential offered in the new ‘Cities’ deal for Belfast and Derry/Londonderry

Infrastructure

The new Executive will:

  • The Executive will advance with plans to complete both the Regional and sub Regional stadia programmes including Casement Park
  • Deliver expanded capital infrastructure funding as part of the Westminster infrastructure improvement initiative
  • Use new funding to develop a range of capital projects such as A5/A6 roads, Improved connection of Dublin and Belfast, York Street interchange and other projects

Energy and Climate Change

Within the agreement, a commitment has been made to develop a new energy strategy.

The new strategy will be orientated around climate change, it will set ambitious targets and measures for a fair and just transition to a zero–carbon society

The parties have recognised the need for a coordinated and strategic approach to address climate change, the new Executive will:

  • A new strategy to address the immediate and long–term impacts of climate change
  • The new assembly will introduce legislation and targets for reducing carbon emissions following the Paris climate change accord
  • Bring forward a new climate change act to give a legal underpinning to environmental targets
  • The Executive will establish an Independent Environmental Protection Agency to oversee this work and ensure targets are met.
  • RHI will be closed down and replaced by a scheme that effectively cuts carbon emissions.
  • The Executive will create a plan to eliminate plastic pollution

Petition of concern

The parties have addressed the Petition of Concern mechanism, key amendments below:

  • Parties will ensure the mechanism returns to its original purpose, protecting minorities 
  • A commitment has been made to use the petition as a last resort
  • It will need cross–party support (Independents included) but the function can still be initiated with the support of 30 MLAs 

Culture and Traditions

A key issue in the failure of previous talks, the new agreement will deliver:

  • New Commissioners to focus on the development of language, arts and literature for the Irish, Ulster–Scots and Ulster British tradition
  • Official recognition of both Irish and Ulster Scots as languages
  • A new office of identity and cultural expression to celebrate all aspects of Northern Ireland’s cultural heritage

Tourism

The new Executive will support Northern Ireland in hosting of further world–class events like the 2019 Open Championship and using reformation of licensing laws to support this strategy.

 

Alcohol

Alcohol has been referenced in the agreement; the following actions will be taken:

  • A commitment to bring forward the reform of licensing laws
  • Publishing of new phase 2 strategic plan on Alcohol and Drugs

Border Communities

  • The agreement recognises the needs of Border communities especially concerning Brexit
  • The Government is continuing preparations for Brexit–mitigation actions under Budget 2020 and targeted funding for the sectors most affected in the event of a no–deal Brexit
  • The Irish Government has introduced a wide range of support programmes for enterprise and the agri–food sector, including the €300 million Brexit Loan Scheme, the €300 million Future Growth Loan Scheme, Enterprise Ireland’s Brexit Scorecard, Bord Bia’s Brexit Barometer, and InterTradeIreland’s Brexit Vouchers.

Housing

  • By introducing legislation to reclassify housing associations, the Executive will enable housing associations to continue building new social housing and intermediate housing, including the Co–ownership Housing Scheme after March 2020.
  • Housing will be included as a specific priority in the Programme for Government. The Executive will also enhance investment and agree a target for new social and affordable home starts and tackle the maintenance backlog for Northern Ireland Housing Executive properties.
  • The Executive will examine options to remove historical debt from the NI Housing Executive and exclude it from having to pay Corporation Tax, and set a long–term trajectory for the rental charges for NI Housing Executive homes which is sustainable and is affordable to tenants.

Welfare Reform

The Executive will extend the welfare mitigation measures in Northern Ireland beyond March 2020 when they are due to expire.