Belfast Telegraph

Stormont crisis: A day of anger and suspicion following Peter Robinson comments and few signs of consensus on how to rebuild

Dry reception for Robinson's call to strike a new deal

By Liam Clarke

Peter Robinson will today start doing the rounds of the other Stormont parties to push forward his proposals for negotiations to change the structures at Stormont and push through welfare reform – despite no clear political consensus on the way forward.

His ideas were set out in an article in yesterday's Belfast Telegraph where he called for a second St Andrews-type agreement and have dominated the political agenda since. His proposals were greeted with incredulity by Sinn Fein which, like some of the other parties, questioned the First Minister's motives.

The DUP leader had called for the removal of checks and balances in the original St Andrews Agreement, which his party concluded with Sinn Fein, the other major parties and the two governments in October 2006.

Mr Robinson said the safeguards, which ensured most parties a seat in government and allowed powers of veto, made decision-making sluggish, rendering the Executive not "fit for purpose".

While every party had strong words on the dramatic intervention, there was no consensus on how to resolve issues.

Mr McGuinness reacted with anger and suspicion.

"Let me say the assertion the institutions aren't fit for purpose isn't one I agree with," he said.

"The difficulty is those working the institutions have to be fit for purpose and have to have a commitment to equality, parity of esteem and recognising there are others in government with them."

He added: "I ask myself what's that all about? Is it about a renegotiation of the Good Friday Agreement? Is it about a renegotiation of the St Andrews Agreement? Is it about what's called voluntary coalition? Is it about a return to majority rule? Is it about trying to take decisions without Sinn Fein having any say?

"The DUP want anti-agreement parties including the TUV, Ukip, PUP and elements of the Orange Order at their proposed new negotiations. People will question the reason for this and the prospect for agreement in any negotiation involving anti-agreement elements."

The mood music was poor but Mr McGuinness, whose agreement is vital to any change, was careful not to close the door on talks. "Sinn Fein is for negotiations and dialogue and we have been absolutely clear that the British and Irish Governments, as well as the US administration, are involved," he said.

Mr Robinson's ideas were welcomed by Secretary of State Theresa Villiers, who said that she intended raising them with the other parties in the coming days.

However, she stressed the need to move ahead on other issues in tandem. "I think it is very important that progress is made on welfare reform, I think it is also important that progress is made on flags, parading and the past. I can say very clearly that the Government will continue to do all we can to try and bring all the parties back to the table on those matters and to facilitate and push for an agreed way forward on those matters," she said in the Commons.

She later explained in a UTV interview: "It's vitally important that progress is made on both of those. In response to Peter's proposal I think the most important step for him is to make sure he is discussing these matters and what he wants to see happen with his colleagues in the Executive."

In an interview on Monday we asked Mr Robinson if he was willing to reopen discussions on flags, parading and the past. His reply suggested that he was open to the idea. He stated "the urgent requirement that we have and the only thing that is likely to bring down the Assembly is the issue of welfare reform".

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