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Dublin 1916 celebrations show Northern Ireland how to cope with past, says Villiers

By Adrian Rutherford

Theresa Villiers believes Dublin has shown Northern Ireland how to deal with the past.

The Secretary of State praised the Irish Government for dealing sensitively with the centenary of the Easter Rising.

Writing in today's Belfast Telegraph, Ms Villiers added: "The way the Irish Government handled the centenary showed that it is possible to deal with difficult and contested issues in ways that are inclusive and designed to promote reconciliation rather than division. I commend them for that."

Ms Villiers also admitted that a return to direct rule was possible last year.

A political crisis was sparked by allegations Provisional IRA members were involved in the murder of Belfast man Kevin McGuigan.

Peter Robinson stepped aside as First Minister in September, along with all but one of the DUP's ministers. They resigned and were reappointed more than 20 times. They eventually resumed their posts on October 20.

The impasse over the Executive's budget and welfare reform also caused deadlock.

Ms Villiers wrote: "As we entered the autumn there was a real danger of early Assembly elections and potentially the collapse of Stormont and a return to direct rule from Westminster.

"After everything that has been achieved here, that would have been a severe setback for Northern Ireland."

Intensive cross-party talks ended with the Fresh Start Agreement. Consensus was reached over paramilitarism, finance and welfare reform, but the legacy of the Troubles remains unresolved.

Ms Villiers said the failure to deal with the past was "regrettable". She added: "The UK Government remains committed to doing this and we have a manifesto pledge to deliver them.

"This remains a high priority for me and my team, not least because I believe that these new institutions will create better outcomes for victims and survivors. This should be one of the first issues the new Executive considers."

Further Reading

Theresa Villiers: After our longest unbroken period of devolution for 45 years, politics here has rarely been more stable  

Ms Villiers also touched on the terror threat in Northern Ireland. Last month, a prison officer died after being injured in a dissident republican bomb attack in east Belfast.

Adrian Ismay (52) was seriously hurt after a booby-trap device exploded under his van on March 4. He died 11 days later.

Ms Villiers said: "Sadly, the appalling murder of Adrian Ismay last month reminded us of the grim threat we continue to face from terrorists.

"The Government will always give its fullest possible support to those who work to keep us safe and secure.

"Terrorism will never succeed. The future of Northern Ireland will only ever be decided by democracy and consent, not by violence."

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