Belfast Telegraph

Stormont is facing a 'deadlock' over flags, marches and dealing with Troubles: Theresa Villiers

By Noel McAdam

Northern Ireland's political leaders are in danger of losing the ability to "clinch a deal" on flags, parades, the legacy of the Troubles and welfare reform.

That was the warning last night from Secretary of State Theresa Villiers, who sounded alarm bells that the Stormont Executive is facing deadlock.

In a major speech in England, the Conservative minister made clear: "There is a genuine fear that Northern Ireland's leaders may be losing their invaluable ability to clinch a deal, to find a way through."

She referred to the remarks of the Queen in her recent visit to Belfast City Hall that political leaders here at the time of the Good Friday Agreement and subsequent St Andrews Agreement had made "the seemingly impossible, possible". She also asked unionists not to view ongoing talks as a threat, and urged both Sinn Fein and the SDLP to think again on their opposition to welfare changes.

Mrs Villiers underpinned the intention of the London Government, working with Dublin, to attempt to restore the stalled inter-party talks on flags, parading and dealing with the past.

The DUP and Ulster Unionists walked out of the talks following the Parades Commission's ban on a July 12 return march in north Belfast.

Since then, Mrs Villiers has been considering a special, targeted investigation – suggested by the Belfast Telegraph – into the circumstances of the contentious Crumlin Road parade, to which both Sinn Fein and the SDLP have said they would be opposed.

Mrs Villiers also told how in deciding whether a new process on the parade dispute was justified or appropriate, her priorities included avoiding anything that could undermine the Parades Commission or that could prevent the cross-party talks starting once again.

The Secretary of State said: "Anyone who thinks that Ulster men and women meekly do the bidding of London knows very little about the last 100 years or so of our history, and not a great deal about being Northern Ireland Secretary either.

"Deadlock and dysfunction is now a real possibility if the political parties in the Executive don't act now to prevent this and grip the situation."

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