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Powersharing is at risk if talks process fails, warns Villiers

By Noel McAdam

The credibility of powersharing in Northern Ireland is on the line in the latest political talks process at Stormont, Theresa Villiers will tonight warn.

The Northern Ireland Secretary is set to stress the importance of securing agreement on the thorny disputes destabilising the institutions in a speech in London.

In the address to a gala dinner for the charity Co-Operation Ireland, Ms Villiers will also confirm that the government's decision on whether corporation tax powers will be devolved to the Stormont Assembly will be made "in the next few weeks".

Ms Villiers is chairing the talks at Stormont aimed at finding consensus on peace process issues such as flags, parades and the past and also current problems regarding finances and the structure of the institutions.

In the speech Ms Villiers will say there is "still a distance to travel" in Northern Ireland "if we're to achieve the stable, peaceful and shared society we all want to see".

She continued: "There can be no doubt that the political institutions at Stormont are not working as well as they could, or should.

"We all have a duty to do all we can to ensure that Stormont works and delivers the effective and efficient government that people in Northern Ireland expect and deserve.

"So that's why, at the end of September, the government made a realistic assessment that the time had come to convene a new round of cross-party talks in a fresh attempt to lift the blockages that are holding Stormont back.

"In particular we need to deal with the long-term financial position of the Executive including welfare reform and those legacy issues such as flags, parading and the past that can cause such damage to community relations."

MP Conor Murphy said the all-party meeting had been branded a stocktaking exercise but "there wasn't a lot of stock to take".

"To date there hasn't been a credible talks process. If the DUP is serious they should be sharing papers with all the other parties. So far we have only received one paper from the DUP," he said.

SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell added: "We made clear we wanted a serious intensification of the process. We need a comprehensive agreement that deals with all the outstanding issues."

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