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Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness open to new talks to resolve Stormont crisis but cautions against suspension of institutions

Published 01/09/2015

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness with party colleagues speaks to the media at Storming Castle. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness with party colleagues speaks to the media at Storming Castle. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
First Minister of Northern Ireland Peter Robinson arrives at Downing Street, London, for meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan and Junior Minister Sean Sherlock, right, speak to the media in Dublin after meeting Theresa Villiers
Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers leaves the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin after meeting Ireland's Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald

Stormont's Deputy First Minister said he would be prepared to take part in a new talks process, but cautioned against any suspension of the political institutions.

Speaking from Stormont Castle, Martin McGuiness said: "I have never been one that refused to be involved in intensive talks.

"What is very important is the backdrop against which talks would take place.

"I don't think it was a good idea looking for a suspension of the institutions for a four-week period and I think it would be an even worse idea if David Cameron were to effectively suspend these institutions and return direct rule ministers for whatever time."

Flanked by senior Sinn Fein figures, Mr McGuinness branded the killers of "Jock" Davison and Kevin McGuigan as low-life, violent dissidents, and said they were "no friends" of mainstream republicanism.

"They immediately become the enemy and they become dissidents," he added.

Amid warnings that a collapse of the Assembly could create a vacuum for violent extremists, Mr McGuinness also revealed Sinn Fein was seeking an urgent meeting with David Cameron.

"The only way we can defeat those people is by working together and be seen to work together," he said.

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Meanwhile First Minister Peter Robinson met with Prime Minister David Cameron to ask the Prime Minister to suspend the Assembly so talks can take place.

Speaking ahead of his meeting with Mr Cameron, Mr Robinson told Sky News: "First of all, this issue won't be resolved unless there is a talks process.

"But to allow that talks process I think we have to realise that we can't simply do business as usual in the Assembly, nor will we.

"Our view is that the Prime Minister and the Government should suspend the assembly to allow the talks to take place."

Mr Robinson went on: "We have to deal with the Stormont Agreement which is already agreed, but welshed on by the SDLP and Sinn Fein.

"That has to be honoured.

"Then we have to deal with the link between paramilitary organisations and executive power.

"The UUP position is just incorrigible.

"How any party could say that they want to take a principled stand and stand up to Sinn Fein and then allow Sinn Fein in the business committee to ensure that business would carry on...

"It is just an unbelievable position and one they are going to have to spend a lot of time explaining to the electorate."

Earlier in the day the Irish government signalled that independent monitoring of the IRA could help resolve the latest political crisis.

After a two-hour meeting with Secretary of State Theresa Villiers, Dublin's Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan said a number of options were on the table.

Little detail was given but he suggested fresh multi-party talks, with London and Dublin overseeing the process, could be imminent.

"I would expect there will be a level of talk and negotiations over the next few weeks," he said.

"A number of options were discussed by the Secretary of State and ourselves as to how best we might facilitate the restoration of trust and confidence in the Northern institutions.

"In the event that talks take place, we will have a fundamental role in facilitating, influencing and advocating a reengagement on the part of the parties in Northern Ireland towards the Good Friday Agreement."

Mr Flanagan added: "One option has been that there be some form of independent monitoring arrangement. Again, the detail wasn't discussed, however it remains an option."

The Irish Foreign Affairs Minister said the need for round table engagement is "essential".

Warning of very serious challenges in the weeks ahead as the Stormont Assembly returns, he urged "all five party leaders" in Northern Ireland to recommit themselves to the letter and spirit of the Good Friday Agreement .

Ms Villiers also suggested that bringing back the Independent Monitoring Commission, which last reported in 2011, could restore trust between unionists and republicans.

"The problem we have at the moment is real. There's a genuine concern about the current situation," she said.

Irish Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, who also met with Ms Villiers in Dublin, released no fresh information on any IRA activity after a high-level meeting with the Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan this morning to discuss security.

She said there was an ongoing review and that both the Garda and Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) agree on their security assessments.

"If there is evidence emerging that has implications here in the south, clearly that will be acted upon," she added.

Earlier, the Democratic Unionists were defeated in a bid for a four-week adjournment of the Northern Ireland Assembly to allow for political negotiations.

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The Ulster Unionists have decided to leave the devolved power-sharing ministerial Executive after police said the IRA still exists.

The largest party, the DUP, had called for Assembly meetings which were due to begin next week to be stalled during crisis talks, but was overruled by the other parties.

PSNI chief constable George Hamilton has said the Provisional IRA still exists and some members, along with a group styling itself Action Against Drugs, were involved in the murder of a father-of-nine last month.

They believe the killing of Kevin McGuigan was a revenge attack by republican associates of IRA commander Gerard "Jock" Davison, who was gunned down in May.

The chief constable said the PIRA is not engaged in terrorism - instead pursuing peaceful, political republicanism - and that there is no evidence the McGuigan killing was sanctioned by the IRA leadership.

But the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) said it could no longer work with Sinn Fein because trust has been shattered.

Mr Robinson, who has been on holiday, branded the UUP decision irrational, illogical and based on "political expediency" rather than principle.

Walking away should be a last resort, he said.

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein said it would not be "deflected" and accused political opponents of exploiting murder.

Conor Murphy, MLA for Newry and Armagh, said: "We and the 178,000 people who voted for us in the last Assembly elections will not be excluded or discriminated against. Those days are over."

Ms Villiers said the "most crucial" aspect of the latest crisis was to allow the PSNI to investigate the Davison and McGuigan murders.

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