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Stormont crisis: Peter Robinson steps aside as First Minister

Arlene Foster will remain as finance minister and will be acting First Minister in the interim

By Claire Williamson

Published 10/09/2015

First Minister Peter Robinson at Stormont, Belfast, watched by Nigel Dodds, Johnathan Bell and Michelle Mcilveen, announces that he is standing aside, and the majority of his Democratic Unionist ministers are to resign, with party colleague Arlene Foster to take over as acting First Minister. Niall Carson/PA Wire
First Minister Peter Robinson at Stormont, Belfast, watched by Nigel Dodds, Johnathan Bell and Michelle Mcilveen, announces that he is standing aside, and the majority of his Democratic Unionist ministers are to resign, with party colleague Arlene Foster to take over as acting First Minister. Niall Carson/PA Wire
Sinn Fein's Conor Murphy(centre) along with party colleagues speak to the press in the Great Hall in Parliament Buildings at Stormont ahead of today's meetings to decided the future of the Northern Ireland Assembly. It is to be decided today whether the Assembly will be suspended. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Sinn Fein's John O'Dowd (left) and Conor Murphy make their way past a portrait of former First Minister Ian Paisley,in Parliament Buildings at Stormont, on their way to the Great Hall to speak to the press ahead of today's meetings to decided the future of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Conor Murphy says that there is "no logic or rationale" for suspending Stormont and confirmed that the party will be voting this afternoon to keep the institutions going. he is pictures at a party press conference at Storming this morning. Picture Matt Bohill Pacemaker.
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (centre) speaking to the media at Stormont, Belfast. Wednesday August 9, 2015.
DUP leader and First Minister Peter Robinson along with party colleagues talk to the press at Carson's statue in the Stormont estate in east Belfast as political talks continue regarding the future of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
The Lord Edward Carson Statue in the grounds of Stormont in Belfast as the SDLP is to meet the Irish premier as pressure mounts on the smaller parties in the Northern Ireland Executive to adjourn the Assembly as a means to avert the suspension or collapse of powersharing.
Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt (centre) alongside Danny Kennedy (left) and Michael McGimmpsey (right) speaking to the media at Stormont, Belfast. Wednesday August 9, 2015.
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (centre) speaking to the media at Stormont, Belfast. Wednesday August 9, 2015.
First Minister Peter Robinson speaks outside Stormont yesterday
Bobby Storey (right) in close proximity to Chief Constable George Hamilton during a recent Falls Road debate
Martin McGuinness

Peter Robinson is stepping aside as Northern Ireland's First Minister and other DUP ministers are to resign in the wake of a political crisis which has brought Stormont to its knees.

Today marks a monumental day in Northern Ireland politics as the DUP threatened to resign if the Assembly was not adjourned or suspended - effectively collapsing the power-sharing institutions.

For the second time the DUP were unsuccessful in their bid to adjourn the Assembly with only the DUP and Alliance voting in favour.

<< Peter Robinson steps aside as First Minister: Full Statement >>

A statement from the Assembly Business Committee said the motion was supported by 46 votes from two parties and voted against by three parties representing 54 votes.

Stormont has been brought to the brink of collapse following the murder of former IRA man Kevin McGuigan in the Short Strand area of east Belfast last month.

The killing of the father-of-nine plunged Stormont into political crisis after the PSNI's assessment that members of the Provisional movement were involved in the killing.

The political tensions were heightened yesterday after detectives investigating the murder arrested senior republican Bobby Storey, who is the northern chairman of Sinn Fein, along with well-known republicans Eddie Copeland and Brian Gillen.

On Thursday evening Mr Storey was released by detectives.

The DUP wanted the Assembly to be suspended until the McGuigan crisis is resolved.

Read more

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Crisis on the hill - your questions answered - Stormont on brink of collapse as DUP vows to quit

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In an ultimatum Mr Robinson insisted that the Assembly business committee or Secretary of State Theresa Villiers must agree to mothball the Assembly - or he and his ministers would walk away.

Announcing that he was stepping aside and Thursday afternoon Mr Robinson the majority of other DUP ministers would resign except for current Finance Minister Arlene Foster who will remain in office and will be acting First Minister in the interim.

Mr Robinson said: "As someone who invested many hours trying to bring devolution to Northern Ireland, and to maintain it, I have tried to create space to allow these critical unresolved matters to be dealt with in a structured manner.

"Local Ministers making local decisions is best for Northern Ireland.

"The failure of the SDLP and Sinn Fein to implement the Stormont House Agreement together with the assessment from the Chief Constable of the involvement of IRA members in murder, the continued existence of the IRA and the arrests that followed has pushed devolution to the brink.

"Yesterday I indicated that we would ask the Business Committee to adjourn Assembly proceedings to allow negotiations to take place.  That proposal did not find sufficient support.  The Government can still legislate to suspend the Assembly and allow space for the parties to negotiate.

"In light of the decision by republicans, nationalists and the UUP to continue with business as usual in the Assembly, I am therefore standing aside as First Minister and other DUP Ministers will resign with immediate effect with the exception of Arlene Foster.

"I have asked Arlene to remain in post as Finance Minister and acting First Minister to ensure that nationalists and republicans are not able to take financial and other decisions that may be detrimental to Northern Ireland."

Following Mr Robinson's announcement Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers said she would not suspend the devolved institutions.

She said the situation was very grave.

"It is a sign of a complete breakdown in the working relationships within the Executive.

"Power-sharing only works effectively if you can have effective relationships between parties from different sides of the community and different parts of the political spectrum."

Irish premier Taoiseach Enda Kenny had urged the SDLP not to vote against adjournment in an eleventh hour meeting in Dublin this morning. However, the nationalist party, which was one of the architects of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, ultimately decided to oppose the move.

SDLP leader Dr Alasdair McDonnell said: "Adjournment would not have added anything, an adjournment would have been there and when the adjournment was over we would still have been drifting toward suspension. The adjournment was not the solution and we looked at this long and hard."

Alliance leader David Ford heavily criticised the UUP and SDLP and accused them of betraying the past generations of their parties which helped forge the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

"John Hume and David Trimble (former SDLP and UUP leaders) sacrificed their parties for the sake of the peace process," he said.

"Today the current leadership of the Ulster Unionists and SDLP has sacrificed the peace process. For what?"

Prime Minister David Cameron is "gravely concerned" about the situation and ahead of Mr Robinson's announcement he was phoning the DUP leader and Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers to discuss developments, said Downing Street.

Mr Cameron's official spokeswoman said: "The Prime Minister is gravely concerned about the situation. As he was saying in the House yesterday, we want to see all politicians in Northern Ireland working together to build a better future for the country and working to fulfil its great potential.We have been encouraging talks between the parties so they can work through their issues."

Asked whether the PM was considering suspending the Assembly, the spokeswoman said: "There are obviously now different people calling for different things, and the Prime Minister's calls with the Secretary of State and the First Minister are an opportunity for us to consider what steps should be taken next."

Live updates:

17:30 UUP leader Mike Nesbitt Northern Ireland Executive needs "surgery not a sticking plaster"

"This is a about a murder. It is about the status of a terrorist organisation in 2015. And it is about the denial of that by a party of government - Sinn Fein. That's why we withdrew from the Executive. We were not prepared to turn a blind eye.

"Since then public opinion has quickly coalesced around the fact this Executive is broken and is not delivering for the people of Northern Ireland. An adjournment is not a fix. Peter Robinson was proposing some sort of sticking plaster. What we really need is surgery.

"If the DUP were serious about holding Sinn Fein to account over the criminal activity of the IRA, why didn't they join us in our request to put terrorism and the credibility of Sinn Fein`s reaction to recent events at the top of the talks agenda, a position on which we have been vindicated?"

"We remain committed to our vision of a properly peaceful and prosperous Northern Ireland. We have bold and imaginative proposals for delivering that vision and we will input our thoughts into what will inevitably be a round of intensive negotiations.

17:00 Peter Robinson resigns as First Minister. Arlene Foster will remain as Finance Minister and will be acting first minister.

As someone who invested many hours trying to bring devolution to Northern Ireland, and to maintain it, I have tried to create space to allow these critical unresolved matters to be dealt with in a structured manner.

Local Ministers making local decisions is best for Northern Ireland.

The failure of the SDLP and Sinn Fein to implement the Stormont House Agreement together with the assessment from the Chief Constable of the involvement of IRA members in murder, the continued existence of the IRA and the arrests that followed has pushed devolution to the brink.

Yesterday I indicated that we would ask the Business Committee to adjourn Assembly proceedings to allow negotiations to take place.  That proposal did not find sufficient support.  The Government can still legislate to suspend the Assembly and allow space for the parties to negotiate.

In light of the decision by republicans, nationalists and the UUP to continue with business as usual in the Assembly, I am therefore standing aside as First Minister and other DUP Ministers will resign with immediate effect with the exception of Arlene Foster.  I have asked Arlene to remain in post as Finance Minister and acting First Minister to ensure that nationalists and republicans are not able to take financial and other decisions that may be detrimental to Northern Ireland.

16:16 Prime Minister David Cameron "gravely concerned" about the situation

Mr Cameron's official spokeswoman said: "The Prime Minister is gravely concerned about the situation. As he was saying in the House yesterday, we want to see all politicians in Northern Ireland working together to build a better future for the country and working to fulfil its great potential.We have been encouraging talks between the parties so they can work through their issues."

Asked whether the PM was considering suspending the Assembly, the spokeswoman said: "There are obviously now different people calling for different things, and the Prime Minister's calls with the Secretary of State and the First Minister are an opportunity for us to consider what steps should be taken next."

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15:30: David Ford "people of Northern Ireland are disappointed at how devolution has worked"

"The people of Northern Ireland are disappointed at how devolution has worked.

"The reality is we are going to have to have talks - it would be better they happened in the next weeks than in five years time."

"It's often been said that Trimble & Hume sacrificed their parties for the sake of the peace process. Today the current leadership of the UUP and SDLP have sacrificed the process, for what?

"Alliance will continue to positive constructive leadership  we will engage in the talks that we need and seek to promote the calmer atmosphere which is the pre requisite of successful talks.

"I would certainly urge the leader of the DUP to step back from the threats that he has made  and to also engage in the talks that we need to see happen.

tormont 7734jpg_2.jpg  

 

15:20 Gerry Adams: We need real talks

"Decision is a very clear democratic reiteration of the integrity of these institutions and the need and wish for these institutions to continue to work which we were all elected to do.

"I am very conscious of what I consider to be a huge mistake when following the dreadful killings and murders of two citizens in the city of Belfast that investigation has gone in to these political institutions.

"That investigation is the business of the PSNI.

"We need real talks. No play acting, not stunts not grand standing but real talks.

"I hope both governments supports the integrity of these institutions and make it clear they will not suspend the institutions.

"The challenges we don't underestimate them but we believe all of these problems can be resolved.

"Calm positive measured leadership which rises above whatever electoral or other inter party rivalries that sometimes intrude on the business of this institutions

"Is there any point in having an election? There has to be an election if the institutions fail

 

Stormont7944jpg_2.jpg  

Martin McGuinness: This decision is the proper decision.

"During the course of the St Andrews negotiations, the DUP argued for a removal of the ability of the British government to evoke suspension on these institutions, so I have to say it's a bit ridiculous that we are now getting an argument that the British Government should change effectively the St Andrew's agreement to bring about the suspension of these institutions.

"That in my opinion would be a huge mistake and a betrayal of previous negotiations that we have all been involved in.

"This is a time for leadership. Mike Nesbitt in my opinion as leader of the UUP has shown no leadership.

"If it comes to it, I fear it might the DUP resign their seats in this Executive. that would be very poor leadership in my opinion.

"Isn't it ridiculous that criminals. low-life murderers who killed two men have the ability to bring down these democratic institutions that I do believe have the overwhelming support of the people of Ireland and the people of the north.

15:10 -  SDLP to oppose adjournment of the Assembly

"Unlike others who rushed to judgement, we have been steady and spoken to everyone, including the Irish Government, this morning about the current situation. Our decision has been to oppose the adjournment of the Assembly. It offers no real solution.

“In our meeting with the Taoiseach we offered a number of constructive proposals including the introduction of a representative of the American Government as a new independent chair, allowing space for a comprehensive resolution involving everyone.

“This crisis has been created by the failings of Sinn Féin and the DUP. Together they have damaged confidence, the institutions, good government and the fundamental values of the Good Friday Agreement.

“The SDLP are not in the business of giving cover for or working to DUP or Sinn Fein agendas. We are in the business of defending and delivering upon the promise of the Good Friday Agreement and ensuring that these institutions work for the good of our people. We will continue to stand up for these institutions. It is disgraceful that others would seek to jeopardise them. But that is their decision and they must be held responsible for it.

“We will not cross the wires of politics and policing as the DUP have done upon recent arrests. We feel the Assembly can and should do business while the talks take place and should not be put at risk by political brinkmanship. You cannot stabilise the institutions by bringing them down.

“All too often we in Stormont are accused of living in a bubble. People are sick of the Assembly lurching from one crisis to the other. They should be. We are.

“We need to be responsible and we will be. An adjournment will not resolve this problem."

14:00pm - SDLP group meeting at Stormont to consider issue of an adjournment ongoing

12.30pm - Conor Murphy Sinn Fein says Stormont shut down "illogical"

"We want to see these institutions continue. We will be voting this afternoon to try and ensure that these institutions continue.

"There is no rationale or logic in shutting down the institutions. There are real problems that are facing us and they need to be addressed through round table talks, those talks should continue today until such times as we resolve the difficulties facing all of us.

"For our part our ministers and our people n the assembly will continue on with the business they can do and try to deliver positive change for the people that we represent and all the collective elected representatives in this institution are responsible for.

"We don't see any logic whatsoever in attempted to shut down these institutions. It didn't happen during Haass , it didn't happen ruing the Stormont House Agreement and it shouldn't be happening now."

 stormont 7724JPG.jpg  

 

This morning the SDLP met Taoiseach Enda Kenny as pressure mounts to adjourn Stormont.

The SDLP meeting with Mr Kenny in Dublin ended around 11.30 am with leader Dr Alasdair McDonnell heading to Belfast to discuss the situation with party colleagues prior to the business committee meeting.

Story so far

The DUP unsuccessfully requested an adjournment of the assembly because it only won support from Alliance and was outvoted by the combined votes of the UUP, Sinn Fein and SDLP.

The Ulster Unionists, who withdrew from the Executive in the wake of the PSNI's assessment,  said they would only support an adjournment "if Gerry Adams injects some honesty and reality into the debate about the status of the IRA in 2015".

He said: "We will not protect a lie, so the only basis on which we will support an adjournment of the Northern Ireland Assembly is if Gerry Adams injects some honesty and reality into the debate about the status of the IRA in 2015.

"If the Chief Constable can do it, and the Secretary of State can do it, and the Taoiseach can do it, I do not think it is a big ask of the great peace maker.

"If Sinn Féin’s refusal to be honest is to result in a breakdown, we support suspension over adjournment, for one simple reason. With adjournment everyone keeps their salaries and privileges, their status and staff. I can think of nothing that will focus minds more than unemployment.”

However the Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said both Mr Cameron and and Taoiseach Enda Kenny are against any suspension.

Mr McGuinness said Sinn Fein are against "violence, criminality and those who would attempt to drag us back to past".

But TUV leader Jim Allister warned: "Under the Robinson plan, during the time the Assembly is suspended the DUP will be talking with the representatives of a still armed and active IRA about how to get the failed and discredited Assembly and Executive back up and running.

"In reality, DUP's suggestion is transparently about their own narrow party political interest rather than any genuine concern about the IRA or justice for the murdered.

"It is an attempt to kick up dust to obscure the real issue, namely, IRA/Sinn Fein's continuing presence in government."

Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday during Prime Minister's Questions appealed for a return of the political spirit that created the Good Friday and St Andrews Agreements.

 

Additional reporting PA

Further reading:

Only talks can break deadlock

SDLP to meet Enda Kenny as pressure mounts to adjourn Stormont  

 

 

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