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Stormont on brink of collapse as DUP vows to quit after police quiz Storey over murder

By Noel McAdam

Published 10/09/2015

First Minister Peter Robinson speaks outside Stormont yesterday
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

Power-sharing in Northern Ireland is teetering on the brink of collapse after the DUP vowed to quit the Executive today unless Stormont is immediately suspended.

First Minister Peter Robinson issued the warning after police arrested three senior republicans over the murder of former IRA man Kevin McGuigan.

They included Sinn Fein's northern chairman Bobby Storey, believed to have been the IRA's director of intelligence. Police had previously said they believe IRA members were involved in the murder.

The political drama developed during a day of high tension at Stormont, less than 24 hours after the latest talks to resolve the crisis got under way.

In an ultimatum that raised the stakes significantly, 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.

However, a decision by the business committee to suspend the Assembly would require all the other Executive parties to reverse their votes. And Mrs Villiers has already made clear she does not think the time is right to consider emergency legislation for putting the legislature in limbo.

As Stormont slid towards a potential end-game, Prime Minister David Cameron appealed for a return of the political spirit that created the Good Friday and St Andrews Agreements.

His call came after the DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said the arrest of Storey, Eddie Copeland and Brian Gillen had escalated the crisis facing Stormont "beyond the tipping point".

Mr Cameron said that when he was in Opposition he had witnessed "one of the most inspiring things that I have seen as a human being" as politicians here put aside their differences to work together.

"The appeal I would make to all of you is, please have that spirit in mind. It was an amazing thing you all did in Northern Ireland when you formed that administration and that Assembly," he said.

Mr Robinson had said he would remove DUP ministers from the Executive "as a last resort" - but that position became untenable given Mr Storey's senior role in Sinn Fein.

The First Minister said: "We have made it clear the DUP will not be involved in business as usual. Other parties must now step up to the mark and stop the Assembly from proceeding as if nothing has happened.

"We have attempted to create the space for these matters to be dealt with, but if others want the Assembly to function normally in spite of Sinn Fein's position, we will have reached the point where, as a last resort, we will take this final step."

The DUP leader's move upped the ante after Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt withdrew from the talks after only a few hours because the issue of IRA activity was not top of the agenda.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness warned it would be a "grave mistake" for the Government to suspend the Assembly, and urged "a time of reflection" for both the DUP and UUP. He accused both parties of actions that were "foolhardy, foolish and totally devoid of the quality of leadership that is required".

Speaking at Parliament Buildings just an hour after Mr Robinson's ultimatum, he said: "We are not going to jump to the tune of the inter-party rivalry that is being played out among both unionist parties at this time."

Last night, the Ulster Unionists said they would only support an adjournment "if Gerry Adams comes up to the mark".

Mr Nesbitt said: "There is one issue here - the fact the IRA still exists and Sinn Fein are in denial. So there is only one fix and I cannot supply it, the DUP cannot supply it, for all their bluster. The only person who can supply the fix is Gerry Adams.

"Gerry Adams has to admit the IRA exists, with a structure. It's down to Gerry Adams to tell the truth."

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."

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said: "At this stage I don't want to go any further than saying I have grave concerns about how all this has developed, including the arrest of Bobby Storey."

Crisis on the hill: your questions answered

Q. So what is likely to  happen now?

A. The DUP is seeking an urgent meeting of Stormont's business committee in order to adjourn further Assembly meetings.

Q. What are the chances of that taking place?

A. Even if a meeting can be arranged, which remains unclear, an adjournment would require a majority of the four other parties - Sinn Fein, Ulster Unionists, SDLP and Alliance - to reverse their positions. So that is unlikely to happen.

Q. Is there any alternative scenario?

A. The DUP has also urged Secretary of State Theresa Villiers to unilaterally suspend the Assembly, to allow the talks to focus on the issue of the current status of the IRA.

Q. And what is the problem with that?

A. Mrs Villiers told the House of Commons on Monday she accepted all the parties were committed to peace and it was not the right time to consider suspension.

Q. So is the ball back in the DUP's court?

A. Mr Robinson made clear that in the event of neither of the above scenarios happening, his ministers would resign "immediately", meaning today. Whether more time can be bought remains to be seen.

Q. Why has this crisis reached a peak now?

A. The arrest of senior republican Bobby Storey in relation to the Kevin McGuigan murder, in which police say Provisional IRA members were involved, brought about what the DUP deputy leader told PM David Cameron was "beyond a tipping point".

Q. What is the most likely option?

A. In the event of both the Executive collapsing and the talks hitting the buffers, the London Government could opt for new elections, which would follow after a six-week period.

Q. But what would doing that actually solve?

A. Not very much, on the face of it. And Mr Robinson has also said his party would not nominate a First Minister on the far side of the election, to allow for even wider negotiations including the current Stormont system.

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