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First Minister Peter Robinson urges Assembly suspension, crisis talks and IRA monitoring

Published 01/09/2015

First Minister of Northern Ireland Peter Robinson outside 10 Downing Street, London
First Minister of Northern Ireland Peter Robinson outside 10 Downing Street, London

Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson has joined calls for independent monitoring of the IRA and urged the British Government to suspend the Assembly and convene urgent political talks.

The Irish Government has already signalled its support for a new body to investigate the IRA ceasefire, after senior police said the organisation still existed, and warned multi-party talks with London and Dublin overseeing the process could be imminent.

The leader of Northern Ireland's largest party, Mr Robinson met Prime Minister David Cameron tonight after failing in a bid to suspend Stormont to allow dedicated negotiations to take place.

After the meeting the DUP leader said: "Our concern is that the process requires urgent talks, the Prime Minister and Secretary of State (Theresa Villiers) agreed with that analysis.

"Our view was that those talks should be held in an atmosphere where people were concentrating on those issues and normal business was not proceeding.

"I think that there was a recognition on their part that we had done the right thing by trying to adjourn the Assembly to allow the talks to take place."

Mr Robinson added that decisions need to be made by Monday on how to clear space for talks.

Asked about independent monitoring of the IRA, he said: "I see that as being a small part of the issue of how to deal with paramilitary organisations.

"It is, on its own, not sufficient."

Downing Street said Mr Cameron realised the gravity of the situation and had asked Ms Villiers to hold talks with Northern Irish parties and the Irish government to help secure an agreement.

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

A spokeswoman said: "The Prime Minister recognised the gravity of the current situation and the need to rebuild trust and confidence in the political process in Northern Ireland. He reiterated his commitment to the devolved institutions and to tackling any remaining paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland.

"The Prime Minister has asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to hold further urgent talks with the political parties in Northern Ireland and the Irish Government with the aim of agreeing a way forward that builds a better future for the people of Northern Ireland."

Responding to Peter Robinson's request to be suspend Stormont the Ulster Unionist Party said in statement: "It could have been except he, as his party’s chief negotiator, conceded those 1998 mechanisms at St Andrews in 2006.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan and Junior Minister Sean Sherlock, right, speak to the media in Dublin after meeting Theresa Villiers
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan and Junior Minister Sean Sherlock, right, speak to the media in Dublin after meeting Theresa Villiers

"Peter Robinson repeatedly attacks the Ulster Unionist Party. He claims that because we do not support an extension of the Assembly’s summer recess being extended into October, we are supporting Sinn Fein.

"These continual attacks raise the following questions: How often have the DUP supported Sinn Fein?

"Didn’t the DUP support Sinn Fein on the Programme for Government commitment for a terrorist shrine at the Maze?

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
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

"Why quit the ‘battlefield’ of the Assembly 24 hours after urging others not to quit battlefields?

"Why use military language if you seek a solution? Why say you will bring forward a motion of exclusion then flip-flop?"

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Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) chief constable George Hamilton has said the Provisional IRA still exists and some members were involved in the murder of a father-of-nine last month.

The revelations have shaken the political establishment in Northern Ireland, following Sinn Fein assurances that the IRA had gone away and the assessment of a 2008 British and Irish Government-appointed Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) report which declared that the IRA has disbanded its terrorist structures and relinquished the leadership necessary to wage war.

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

The chief constable said the IRA was 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 and decided to leave powersharing.

Ms Villiers also suggested that bringing back the IMC, which last reported on paramilitary activity in 2011, could restore trust between unionists and republicans.

Dublin's Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan said: "I would expect there will be a level of talk and negotiations over the next few weeks."

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

Stormont's Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said he would be prepared to take part in a new talks process.

"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."

Commenting on recent murders of republicans in Belfast Mr McGuinness said: "The appalling murders of Jock Davison and Kevin McGuigan which were carried out by criminals and are now being exploited by unionists for narrow political self interest.

"I and my Sinn Fein colleagues have taken great risks in support of the peace and political processes over the last decade, facing down violent elements both republican and loyalist.

"That is what leadership is about and it is clear that now is a time for real leadership from all politicians.

"Resolution of the current political difficulties will not be achieved through internal unionist electoral contests or naked party politicking.

"What we need to see now is a united focus on the real difficulties facing the political process, the cuts agenda of the Tory government, as well as issues around parading, identity and addressing the legacy of the past.

"Sinn Fein will not be deterred from working to find a resolution to those issues and we call on others to do the same."

Sinn Fein is seeking an urgent meeting with Mr Cameron.

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