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Martin McGuinness in US for talks aimed at saving Stormont

By Deborah McAleese

Published 27/07/2015

Martin McGuinness
Martin McGuinness

Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness is due to fly to Washington today to ask for help to save Northern Ireland's political structures from collapse.

Warning that the political crisis is "extremely grave", the Deputy First Minister said that he wanted the United States to persuade the British Government to change its position on welfare reform - the issue that has been threatening Stormont's future.

The political crisis is due to the impasse over the implementation of welfare reforms, a key plank of the Stormont House deal.

Without the changes to the benefits system, the rest of the agreement between the Executive parties and the British and Irish governments is in limbo.

The deadlock has contributed to a black hole in the Executive's budget running to hundreds of millions of pounds - a shortfall that has prompted the Treasury to warn the administration that it is preparing to take back spending powers.

Mr McGuinness is due to meet with the Friends of Ireland caucus on Capitol Hill, the State Department and other senior administration officials.

"The institutions of the Good Friday Agreement, which have underpinned the Irish peace process for almost two decades, are facing crisis. This is an extremely grave situation and I would urge all those with a stake in this process to make every effort to find a resolution which secures the power-sharing administration," he said last night.

Mr McGuinness said that an "imaginative and innovative solution, which recognises the particular challenges faced by our administration" is needed to redress the crisis.

"That means ensuring the institutions are politically and economically viable and able to meet the needs of a society emerging from a long and bitter conflict.

"To date, that has not been forthcoming from the British Government and they need to be persuaded that a new approach is required," he added.

Mr McGuinness said he hoped the US administration could "help convince the British Government of the gravity of the current situation and to end their current approach which threatens to undermine the incredible progress we have made."

His trip to America comes days after he and other Sinn Fein members, including party leader Gerry Adams, held talks with Prime Minister David Cameron over welfare reform.

After the talks, Mr McGuinness said Mr Cameron would have to give a "powerful input" in order to find a solution to the crisis.

The meeting ended without a breakthrough, but Mr McGuinness, who missed the birth of his newest grandchild to travel to London, said it had not been a waste of time.

Last Monday MPs in the House of Commons voted for the latest round of welfare changes.

The DUP warned that the plans could "bring down the Assembly".

Finance Minister Arlene Foster said a £600m black hole in the Northern Ireland budget was set to increase "by hundreds of millions of pounds" with the new reforms, adding that they will have an even worse effect here if the Stormont House Agreement is not implemented.

Background

The current crisis at Stormont is due to the impasse over the implementation of welfare reforms, a key plank of the Stormont House deal. Without the changes to the benefits system, the rest of the agreement between the Executive parties and the British and Irish governments is in limbo. The deadlock has contributed to a black hole in the Executive's budget running to hundreds of millions of pounds - a shortfall that has prompted the Treasury to warn the administration that it is preparing to take back spending powers.

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