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Ulster Unionists close to walkout on 'Fawlty Towers' talks

By Noel McAdam

Published 22/10/2015

Mike Nesbitt leads the Ulster Unionist delegation
Mike Nesbitt leads the Ulster Unionist delegation

The Ulster Unionists have stepped closer towards walking out of what they dubbed the "Fawlty Towers" talks, just as they quit the Executive.

Leader Mike Nesbitt warned yesterday's resumed negotiations following the independent report on paramilitarism failed to address "the elephant in the room" - the existence and role of the IRA army council.

"It was like the episode of Fawlty Towers where everyone is told, 'Don't mention the war'," the UUP boss, whose sole Minister Danny Kennedy quit the Executive eight weeks ago, quipped.

Following a session focused on the report issued on Tuesday, Mr Nesbitt said he attempted to raise the issue of paramilitarism three times - but was at first told off and then ignored.

Mr Nesbitt said he had asked the meeting yesterday: "Have I been sitting here in negotiations with members of the IRA Army Council?" and Secretary of State Theresa Villiers told him the question was "not appropriate".

Then the UUP leader said talks co-chair, Irish foreign minister Charlie Flanagan, remarked that his army council question was "less than positive".

Afterwards, Mr Nesbitt commented: "There was not a meaningful discussion about the fact that the report says that the IRA exists. Nobody wanted to address that, particularly not the Irish government.

"How can you possibly agree a strategy for addressing paramilitarism if Sinn Fein continue to deny the existence of the IRA and ignore the fact that the panel report states the Army Council of the IRA oversees 'Sinn Fein with an overarching strategy'? It's just not credible.

"We can't sign up to a declaration or an action plan unless everyone agrees who we are dealing with here. Otherwise, any agreement would be built on a lie. We will not be signing up to an agreement built on a lie."

But Sinn Fein talks representative Conor Murphy said: "Mike Nesbitt's hyprocrisy knows no bounds. He criticises Sinn Fein while cosying up to active armed loyalist gangs when it suits him."

SDLP negotiator Alex Attwood said the gravity of the issues before the parties should not be reduced to comedy - or denial, of which he accused Sinn Fein.

"What is required is war on organised crime, the pursuit of criminality to the four corners of Ireland and for the IRA, UDA, UVF influences, control and structures to be gone and gone for good," he said.

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