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Washington pledges help in effort to end Stormont crisis

By David Young, PA

Published 30/07/2015

Visit: Theresa Villiers
Visit: Theresa Villiers

The US administration is willing to bring its influence to bear to resolve a political dispute that is threatening power-sharing at Stormont, Northern Ireland's Secretary of State has said.

Theresa Villiers is in Washington where she has held meetings with officials from the State Department, the National Security Council and Vice President Joe Biden's office.

Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness is also in the US on a similar round of engagements with the administration.

The separate transatlantic trips come as the devolved institutions in Belfast edge toward collapse due to a bitter row over the non-implementation of the Government's welfare reforms.

Ms Villiers said there "is anxiety about the political deadlock and its potential consequences" within Washington

Without rolling out the UK Government's changes to the benefits system, last year's wide-ranging Stormont House Agreement between the Executive's five parties and the British and Irish governments is in limbo.

The deadlock, due to a Sinn Fein/SDLP veto on welfare, has contributed to a black hole in the Executive's budget running to hundreds of millions of pounds.

Sinn Fein claimed proposed Executive-funded top-up schemes for claimants contained in the agreement were not as comprehensive as it envisaged.

The Government and the unionist parties blame Sinn Fein's stance on welfare for the crisis, while the republican party claims the root of the problem is the Government's "austerity agenda".

Ms Villiers said the administration in Washington had offered to help with efforts to find a resolution.

"They are very willing to help," she said. "They are very willing to try to bring influence to bear and I have been encouraging them to engage with all sides to encourage the five Northern Ireland parties to work together to try to find a resolution to this impasse."

Sinn Fein's main partner in government, the DUP, has heavily criticised Mr McGuinness's decision to fly to the US, branding it a "waste of time".

Ms Villiers said: "I don't know exactly what the rationale of Martin's visit is but Sinn Fein have very long-standing ties with Irish America and I know he and his colleagues are out here regularly with those kind of discussions.

"It doesn't change the fundamentals of what we need to do - to get the Stormont House Agreement implemented."

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