Parties voice their anger at “non-start” agreement

Posted By: November 17, 2016

Mike Nesbitt described the Fresh Start agreement as a “non-start”

Alex Attwood said the element of Fresh Start for dealing with paramilitarism was “lacking detail.” 

John Manley. Irish News (Belfast). Thursday, November 17, 2016

ALLIANCE has joined Stormont’s opposition parties in criticizing the lack of progress in implementing the Fresh Start agreement one year after its signing.

The document – billed as an “agreement to consolidate the peace, secure stability, enable progress and offer hope” – was unveiled 12 months ago today following weeks of negotiations involving the assembly’s main parties and the British and Irish governments.

The executive will present its assessment of Fresh Start next week, alongside an update on the first six months of the new-look devolved institutions.

To coincide with the Agreement’s first anniversary, however, the UUP, SDLP and Alliance all issued statements criticizing the accord.

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt labeled the deal a “non-start.”

“We’ve had lots of words from the Sinn Féin/DUP executive but little action,” he said.

“Meanwhile paramilitaries still rule the roost, NHS waiting lists get longer, money doesn’t get spent and victims despair as the past lingers poisonously.”

The Strangford MLA said the agreement’s only achievement to date was creating a “short-term solution” to welfare reform that “saves Sinn Féin’s blushes.”

SDLP MLA Alex Attwood said Fresh Start was “in big part, an election strategy” designed to “disguise the failures” of the DUP-Sinn Féin-led administration.

“The strategy to deal with paramilitaries and organized crime is now seen as lacking detail, lacking impact, and lacking ambition,” he said.

“Fresh Start was utterly silent on the issue of addressing the past which, it now appears, has become the private business of the DUP, Sinn Féin and the British government – addressing the past should not be left in their hands as it will not win the confidence of victims and survivors.”

Alliance’s Stewart Dickson said the deal had “left victims in limbo.”

“Alliance did not fully endorse the so-called Fresh Start agreement, mainly due to its inability to comprehensively deal with the needs of victims and their families,” he said.

“Instead it was used for self-praise by the DUP and Sinn Féin. One year on, victims remain without resolution and yet the executive continues to pretend this deal was ground-breaking.”

Secretary of State James Brokenshire said he was encouraged by the “significant progress made” since Fresh Start but emphasized there was “still work to be done.

“In the past year welfare reform legislation has passed through Westminster and Stormont and the first tranche of the available £0.5 billion funding for shared and integrated education projects has been released,” he said.

“A new Independent Reporting Commission on paramilitary groups will be in place before the end of the year.

“Political stability is vital in Northern Ireland. I know it is a great place to live, to work, to visit, to invest and do business in no small part thanks to the firm foundations of Fresh Start, and the Stormont House Agreement before it.

“They are a solid platform as we continue to build a Northern Ireland that works for everyone.”