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Ulster crisis: Ministers must act on DUP proposals, says Peter Robinson

Published 14/09/2015

Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness warned that talks to save Northern Ireland's floundering powersharing government cannot have preconditions attached
Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness warned that talks to save Northern Ireland's floundering powersharing government cannot have preconditions attached
Sinn Fein's northern chairman Bobby Storey and president Gerry Adams

The Government must take action to deal with the fallout sparked by an IRA-linked murder before the Democratic Unionists are prepared to enter cross-party crisis talks in Northern Ireland, leader Peter Robinson has indicated.

Mr Robinson said the contents of a Government statement due to be made to the House of Commons on Tuesday would influence his party's approach to the negotiations.

There is uncertainty whether one-to-one meetings in Belfast today involving the Executive parties and the British and Irish governments will progress to round-table negotiations to save power-sharing.

The DUP leader, who stood aside as Stormont First Minister last week amid the furore created by the killing of Kevin McGuigan, said he would not make public what his party has asked of Prime Minister David Cameron.

Sinn Fein has insisted round table talks aimed at resolving the dispute cannot come with preconditions attached.

Potential actions open to the Government include establishing new mechanisms to monitor paramilitary activity and provide assessments of the extent of IRA activity.

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers is to outline the Government's position at Westminster.

"The Secretary of State knows what we are looking for, the Prime Minister knows what we are looking for," said Mr Robinson.

"And we'll listen attentively to the Secretary of State tomorrow in the House of Commons to see whether it meets the criteria that the party has set down."

He said it was important the DUP proposals were reflected in Ms Villiers' statement.

"If not, then quite frankly we will have decisions to take as a party," he added.

"But we want to be involved in a talks process, that's what we believe should happen, but we want to know that some of the main parties that will be involved and will have to take decisions are taking the issue seriously."

Mr Robinson said his party was prepared to enter talks "in the right set of circumstances".

He added: "And the Secretary of State has the ability to ensure those circumstances do exist."

The mandatory coalition Executive in Belfast is teetering on the verge of collapse.

The Ulster Unionists have quit the administration and the Democratic Unionists have pulled four of their five ministers out.

Today, DUP MLAs essentially boycotted business in the Assembly chamber - their absence leaving large empty spaces on one side of the devolved legislature.

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said he had also urged the Government to take action, specifically in regard to dealing with paramilitarism and organised crime.

He insisted negotiations could only proceed if Sinn Fein stops denying the IRA exists.

The republican party has vehemently rejected the assessment of police chiefs and the two governments that structures of the IRA are still in operation.

"We now await the Secretary of State's statement to the House of Commons tomorrow," said Mr Nesbitt.

"She is in no doubt what we need to hear."

However, Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness has warned there could be no preconditions.

He said if full-scale talks fail, or do not proceed, then the next logical step is a snap election.

"I do think that as we enter into these discussions that it is very, very important that we do so on the basis of no preconditions," he said.

"And I want to see, and am working for, talks to take place with a view to a successful outcome. But if talks are not going to take place and if talks do take place and there is no successful outcome then, in my view, the next logical step is to an election, and that is my very firm and strong view. Our party has no fear whatsoever of an election."

The Sinn Fein veteran said the choice for the parties boiled down to achieving success in the talks or facing the electorate at the polls.

"That is the stark choice facing all of the parties in this process," he said.

The latest crisis to beset the faltering administration erupted after last month's murder of former IRA member Mr McGuigan.

Police have said current members of the IRA were involved in the shooting in a suspected revenge attack for the murder of former IRA commander Gerard "Jock" Davison in Belfast three months earlier.

The disclosures about the IRA have heaped pressure on Sinn Fein to explain why the police assess that the supposedly defunct paramilitary organisation is still in existence.

Sinn Fein insists the IRA has gone away and has accused the two unionist parties of contriving a crisis for electoral gain.

The SDLP has insisted Stormont needs to get back to the principles that underpinned the historic 1998 Good Friday peace agreement.

The party has also called for more involvement from the US administration.

"This is going to be a big test for all the political parties but it is an even bigger test for the two governments," said SDLP MLA Alex Attwood.

Alliance party leader David Ford said all issues destabilising Stormont, including the still-unimplemented Stormont House political deal of last year, needed to be addressed in the talks.

"We have made it absolutely clear that Alliance is determined that we resolve the outstanding issues from Stormont House, we resolve the financial issues and the issues of dealing with the past," he said.

"We also must deal with the threat of violence as it exists on both sides of the community now and permanently."

Both the SDLP and Alliance delegation were confronted by a small group of victims' campaigners outside the talks venue at Stormont House.

The three women, who all lost loved ones in the Troubles, claimed that structures envisaged to deal with the legacy of the past were unaccountable and could see effective amnesties handed to killers.

After meeting all the parties individually through the day, Ms Villiers said: "We need urgently to find a way forward so that intensive and focused talks can take place that lead to the full implementation of the Stormont House Agreement and address issues arising out of continued activity by paramilitary organisations.

"All the parties I saw today agree that if the devolved institutions are to retain credibility and function effectively, these are the most urgent questions to resolve. I plan to update the House of Commons tomorrow and resume discussions on Wednesday."

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