Belfast Telegraph

We need the Americans: Only British, Irish and US governments can kick-start Northern Ireland's peace process

US involvement urged as parties edge closer to new talks

By Liam Clarke

The American government has been called on to help kick-start Northern Ireland's faltering peace process as the parties inch towards entering new talks.

With warnings that Stormont is in danger of complete collapse, both the Alliance Party and Sinn Fein have called for US intervention along with the British and Irish governments.

While the bitter fall-out has continued since First Minister Peter Robinson called for all-party talks to save devolution earlier this week, the parties all look likely to agree to new negotiations.

Alliance leader David Ford warned yesterday that if "the British Government doesn't get a grip and convene talks, devolution will be in real danger of collapse".

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams also claimed that "the political process in the north is currently in serious difficulty".

He warned: "A negative political axis is currently seeking to undermine the Good Friday Agreement and turn back the clock on the progress of recent years."

The comments of the two leaders are the latest round in a bitter war of words as parties position themselves for new talks on the government of Northern Ireland. The recriminations follow an article by Peter Robinson in the Belfast Telegraph saying that Stormont was "no longer fit for purpose" and that a new agreement was needed to reform it.

Speaking shortly before meeting Secretary of State Theresa Villiers for discussions on the political way forward yesterday, Mr Ford said Sinn Fein and the DUP had "created this crisis by their short-term decisions, by putting the needs of their parties before the needs of people, and by pandering to extremism".

"Our political institutions are more vulnerable than at any time since devolution in 2007, and in the months ahead people will see public services cut deeper than at any time in living memory."

He was referring to the failure to resolve the issue of welfare reform, which is being introduced in the rest of the UK but is being blocked here by Sinn Fein, resulting in Westminster clawing back the amount we overspend. Fines of £77m are due to kick in next month.

Mr Ford claimed that the DUP and Sinn Fein were incapable of resolving the crisis which they had created and urged Government to take the helm.

"The British Government must urgently convene talks, and with the Irish and American governments, must make it clear to unionist and nationalist leaders that they are failing Northern Ireland," he said. "It is no longer enough to passively encourage the DUP and Sinn Fein to work together – the governments must now broker the agreements we need if devolution is to be saved."

Mr Adams put the blame for the impasse on unionists. Addressing delegates at his party's "think-in" near Drogheda yesterday, he said: "We now have the ludicrous position of unionist leaders, who repeatedly walked away from talks, asking for new talks."

He cast doubt on Mr Robinson's motives, warning him: "Unionist political leaders may hanker after a return t o majority rule in the north but that is never, ever going to happen. The Orange state is gone for ever".

He also accused the British and Irish governments of making matters worse but he added: "Sinn Fein is open to negotiations and dialogue and we have been very clear that the Irish and British governments and the US administration should be involved."

Background

Pressure is growing for a new round of comprehensive political talks to tackle issues ranging from welfare reform, parading, flags, the past and the reform of Stormont. On Tuesday First Minister Peter Robinson said that Stormont was no longer fit for purpose and called for new St Andrews Agreement to reform it. Last weekend Irish Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan called for new talks and Secretary of State Theresa Villiers is now meeting the parties to see what is possible.

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