Breakthrough in Northern Ireland as Stormont parties agree deal on welfare reform

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness tweeted: ‘A step change in negotiations!!’

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Indy Politics

A deal on welfare reform which would help unlock Northern Ireland’s political impasse over public spending has been agreed by the parties in Belfast. It is now up to David Cameron to respond to the proposals, part of wider talks involving issues left unresolved from the peace process.

The power-sharing administration at Stormont faces £200m cuts to its budget unless measures imposed by Westminster to reduce the benefits bill are introduced in Northern Ireland. Teachers, students and the health service could be badly affected, unions and business leaders have said.

Following 10 weeks of discussions, Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan struck an optimistic note.

Mr McGuinness tweeted: “A step change in negotiations!! Our team focused but more to do.” Mr Flanagan said: “Substantial progress has been made over the past 24 hours. Intensive engagement continues.”

Republicans adamantly opposed benefits changes which they claimed targeted the most vulnerable.