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Northern Ireland political crisis: key questions

By Michael McHugh

Published 07/09/2015

7th September 2015
DUP leader and First Minister talks to the press in the Great Hall at Parliament Buildings, Stormont, regarding the recent crisis in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
7th September 2015 DUP leader and First Minister talks to the press in the Great Hall at Parliament Buildings, Stormont, regarding the recent crisis in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

Stormont First Minister Peter Robinson has said there will be no more Northern Ireland Executive meetings unless in exceptional circumstances - but what does this mean for Northern Ireland's power-sharing government?

Here are some key questions and answers about the political crisis

Why will there be no more meetings?

The DUP is the largest group in Stormont and party leader Mr Robinson has said his ministers will not attend meetings of the Executive, instead focusing on political crisis talks on paramilitary activity and other difficulties with powersharing.

Unionist confidence has been shaken by the shooting dead of former prisoner Kevin McGuigan by members of a Provisional IRA which many thought did not exist any more.

The devolved administration is also facing financial ruin because of a dispute between the DUP and their main powersharing partners Sinn Fein over welfare reform.

Changes advocated by the Conservatives envisage savings in housing benefits and measures to encourage returning to work. Sinn Fein argues that it will hurt the most vulnerable.

What does the Executive not meeting mean for Stormont?

No ministerial decisions will be taken on welfare reform, which has paralysed the administration since Sinn Fein announced it would not support the changes.

A budget passed earlier this year has a £600 million black hole caused by failures to implement welfare savings and money is due to run out soon for public services.

A voluntary exit scheme for civil servants is likely to go ahead after the British Government said it would make money available.

Welfare will be a key issue during talks called by the British and Irish governments which are due to begin at Stormont on Tuesday.

What do the other parties think about the Executive not meeting?

The Ulster Unionists have already walked out of the Executive because they claim they cannot trust republicans and want to form an opposition to the mandatory powersharing coalition in Belfast.

Sinn Fein said republicans will not be distracted by an electoral contest within unionism and has pledged to fight austerity. It has said taking back welfare powers to Westminster would be unacceptable.

Hardliners like the Traditional Unionist Voice said the Executive did not work and could not deliver anyway.

Is powersharing going to collapse completely?

Mr Robinson said his ministers would resign from the Executive if progress is not made in talks led by Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers and Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan.

The Government has said the talks will be short, focused and intensive. They will cover paramilitary activity and implementation of the Stormont House Agreement, which was supposed to have resolved many outstanding peace process issues last year.

Mr Robinson has also described the British Government's ultimatum that it could take back welfare powers as a "game changer" to help get the Executive back on a sustainable financial footing.

Sinn Fein has said any move by the British Government to impose its welfare cuts agenda over the heads of the Assembly and Executive would seriously undermine devolution and the political institutions.

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