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Stormont crisis: DUP ministers will 'renominate and resign' to keep roles from Sinn Fein

Published 11/09/2015

Peter Robinson outlined the potential political choreography as the Prime Minister urged Northern Ireland's politicians to "go the extra mile" to save the institutions
Peter Robinson outlined the potential political choreography as the Prime Minister urged Northern Ireland's politicians to "go the extra mile" to save the institutions

Stormont ministers from the Democratic Unionist Party, who quit Northern Ireland's powersharing government, are set to be renominated next week only to resign again immediately in a move designed to keep the posts away from nationalists and republicans, party leader Peter Robinson has said.

Under the rules of Stormont's mandatory coalition Executive, if a minister is not renominated within seven days the position is reallocated to another party.

Intensive political talks involving the Northern Ireland parties and the British and Irish governments are due to start on Monday (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Intensive political talks involving the Northern Ireland parties and the British and Irish governments are due to start on Monday (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

Mr Robinson said he aimed to ensure the administration was not able to function properly until a major crisis over a murder linked to the IRA is resolved.

The DUP leader, who himself stood aside as first minister yesterday, outlined the potential political choreography as the Prime Minister urged Northern Ireland's politicians to "go the extra mile" to save the institutions.

David Cameron said the Government stood ready to do what it could to resolve the meltdown sparked by last month's murder of Kevin McGuigan.

Intensive political talks involving the Northern Ireland parties and the British and Irish governments are due to start on Monday in a bid to rescue powersharing.

Mr Robinson and three of his four DUP ministerial colleagues walked out of the Executive in Belfast yesterday, leaving a husk of an administration limping on.

DUP Finance Minister Arlene Foster has been left in the Executive to act as what her party is describing as a "gatekeeper" to prevent controversial government decisions by the remaining nationalist and republican ministers. As well as her current portfolio, she has assumed the post of acting First Minister.

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Martin McGuinness said politicians had "six weeks" to save the Executive. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA

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Asked if he would renominate ministers next week, Mr Robinson said: "And we'll do exactly the same thing again (after renomination), we'll resign until such times as the matters are resolved."

Deputy leader Sinn Fein Mary Lou McDonald, Sinn Fein Leader Gerry Adams and Northern Ireland deputy first minister Martin McGuinness at the meeting of Sinn Fein's Dail team, Assembly team and European Parliament team, at the City North Hotel, Co. Meath. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA
Deputy leader Sinn Fein Mary Lou McDonald, Sinn Fein Leader Gerry Adams and Northern Ireland deputy first minister Martin McGuinness at the meeting of Sinn Fein's Dail team, Assembly team and European Parliament team, at the City North Hotel, Co. Meath. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA

Mr Robinson told UTV: "What we have made clear is the objective - and let's not get tied up in processes - the objective in all of this was to ensure that we would not be doing business as usual, so we will not be doing business as usual.

"But, at the same time, we are not going to be handing seats over the Sinn Fein and the SDLP, why should the Sinn Fein organisation be rewarded for bad behaviour, they should be punished for bad behaviour, not given extra seats."

Mr Cameron described the crisis as an "extremely worrying situation".

Ulster Unionist party leader Mike Nesbitt (2nd L) answers questions during a press conference at Stormont (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Ulster Unionist party leader Mike Nesbitt (2nd L) answers questions during a press conference at Stormont (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

Speaking in Leeds, the Prime Minister said: "We stand ready to help, including standing ready to help with getting rid of the paramilitary organisations and properly examining how they still exist, what they consist of and putting them out of commission in our country.

"I would appeal to the politicians to go the extra mile, the extra ten miles if they have to, to make these institutions work for people in Northern Ireland."

Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness today said politicians had "six weeks" to save the Executive.

SDLP party leader Alastair McDonnell (R) answers questions during a press conference at Stormont (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
SDLP party leader Alastair McDonnell (R) answers questions during a press conference at Stormont (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

Jim Allister, leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice party - which is not a member of the Executive, said the DUP plan plumbed "new lows of pantomime farce".

"All of the shenanigans in Stormont to date will pale into insignificance and it will be held in even greater contempt than it currently is - which is quite an achievement," he said.

The unionist walkout from the mandatory coalition came after the DUP failed to get the Assembly adjourned for a period to allow crisis talks to address the implications of the murder of Mr McGuigan.

The political furore over the killing intensified on Wednesday when three senior republicans were arrested in connection with the murder. The trio were subsequently released unconditionally.

Mr Cameron today insisted it would not be right to suspend the institutions.

"It is unacceptable in any part of our country to have active paramilitary groups," he said.

"They have to be disbanded, and disbanded on all sides, and it is absolutely vital and I can completely understand about the concerns that have been expressed because of what has happened in recent weeks in terms of these appalling murders.

"I want these devolved institutions to succeed, everyone wants them to succeed, so I don't think it is right for the British government, the UK Government, to step in and suspend the institutions.

"I want to see the politicians of Northern Ireland coming together, talking together, working out how to make these institutions work."

The fallout from the murder of Mr McGuigan has already seen the Ulster Unionists resign their one ministerial post.

The exit of Mr Robinson along with three of the DUP's four other ministers - and its one junior minister, has left the 13-minister administration in freefall.

The departments of health and social care; social development; enterprise, trade and investment; and regional development are now effectively rudderless.

Mrs Foster has faced criticism for saying her role was to stop the possibility of "rogue Sinn Fein ministers or renegade SDLP ministers" taking decisions that will "harm the community in Northern Ireland".

Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly described her remarks as "bigoted" and a "throwback" to the past.

If the DUP had vacated the First Minister's post, the institutions would have likely collapsed within a week. Keeping Mrs Foster in the administration effectively buys more time to find a resolution.

Police have said current members of the IRA were involved in last month's shooting of Mr McGuigan in a suspected revenge attack for the murder of former IRA commander Gerard "Jock" Davison in Belfast three months earlier.

The disclosures about the IRA have heaped pressure on Sinn Fein to explain why the supposedly defunct paramilitary organisation is still in existence, even if for what police described as peaceful, political purposes.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams warned there was a short window of opportunity to rescue the peace process from what he described as a crisis contrived by unionists for electoral interests.

Addressing a gathering of his party in Gormanstown, Co Meath, Mr Adams repeated his "grave concerns" at how he believes the two murders have been exploited.

"However, notwithstanding how the political process got to this point and how malign forces have succeeded in bringing all that has been achieved to the edge of the abyss, the collective responsibility of all the parties is to take a step back," he said.

"We have a short window of opportunity to chart a different course through this crisis."

Irish premier Taoiseach Enda Kenny said politicians in Northern Ireland must remember they were voted into positions of responsibility.

"I think this (collapse) can be avoided, but I think it needs a realistic appraisal by people who have had very harsh things to say about each other and where there are clear differences of opinion, strong differences of opinion, but you have to look at the bigger picture, and that's the people of Northern Ireland and their futures," he said.

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers said re-instigating an independent authority to look at decommissioning command structures was one of the most "credible" options to address unionist concerns over paramilitarism.

Key questions

Here are some key questions and answers about the political crisis.

Why did Mr Robinson step down?

Police have linked the murder of Kevin McGuigan in Belfast last month to members of the IRA engaged in personal criminality. But the revelation that the organisation still exists and individuals associated with it engaged in murder has shocked unionists.

Sinn Fein contains many former members of the IRA and unionists have questioned their credibility in government at Stormont while they claim more questions remain to be answered by republicans.

The row intensified earlier this week after a senior Sinn Fein member was arrested, although later released, as part of the inquiry into Mr McGuigan's death.

Mr Robinson has said he wanted to have Sinn Fein excluded from government but was unable to gain enough support from other parties.

On Thursday the assembly business committee which represents the five largest parties voted against another of his proposals, adjournment of the devolved legislature, leaving Mr Robinson and his party to decide whether to continue to operate the institutions.

What happens now?

The east Belfast-based party leader wants to focus on intensive talks called by the British and Irish governments which aim to address any lingering paramilitarism a decade after the IRA was thought to have disbanded.

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers has said they will be intensive and signalled they are not intended to last long. Some political leaders have put the timeframe at about four weeks.

What are the parties talking about?

Concerns about loyalist and republican paramilitarism and the possibility of establishing an independent body to monitor the ceasefires similar to that which existed until 2011.

Budgetary matters which had already brought the powersharing Executive to the verge of financial ruin. Sinn Fein opposes welfare changes which it says will hurt the most vulnerable but the British Government believes will encourage people back to work. As a result of the stalemate the administration is paying "fines" imposed on the amount the British Government pays Stormont to run public services in Northern Ireland, leaving a £600 million black hole in the budget and the prospect of running out of money later this autumn.

Other issues outstanding from last year's unimplemented Stormont House Agreement, which pledged a range of bodies to investigate the legacy of thousands of Troubles killings and a number of other measures.

What happens to powersharing?

The departments of health and social care; social development; enterprise trade and investment; and regional development are now effectively rudderless after the Ulster Unionist and Democratic Unionist resignations.

Mr Robinson appointed Arlene Foster acting First Minister, avoiding automatic collapse of the institutions and ensuring republicans cannot take decisions detrimental to Northern Ireland. But his promise that it would not be business as usual while issues of paramilitarism were addressed appears to have been fulfilled.

Earlier this week, Mr Robinson also called an end to meetings of Stormont Executive, because it must be convened jointly by him and Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, and said there would be no formal meetings between Northern Ireland ministers and their counterparts from the Irish Republic.

The DUP has asked the Prime Minister to take the power to suspend the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers could pass emergency legislation at Westminster allowing her to suspend the Assembly but has refused to do so.

What does it mean for ordinary people in Northern Ireland?

Businesses had hoped power to set corporation tax would be devolved, enabling the region to compete more effectively with the Republic of Ireland's lower rate. That has been endangered by the political wrangling.

A government package representing additional spending power of almost £2 billion, much of it borrowing, has not been released but money has been made available for a voluntary redundancy scheme for the civil service.

Timeline of events

Here is a timeline of significant events over the past five months.

  • May 5 - Mr Davison, 47, is shot dead at Welsh Street in the Markets area of Belfast. The senior republican backed Sinn Fein's peace process strategy following the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and was employed as a community development worker in his local neighbourhood. He was linked to the 2005 fight which led to the death of father of three Robert McCartney in one of Northern Ireland's most notorious killings, but was never charged. His uncle, Terrence Davison, was later acquitted of the murder.
     
  • May 9 - Funeral for Mr Davison is attended by a number of high profile republicans, including Bobby Storey, Eddie Copeland and Brian Gillen. His coffin is draped in an Irish tricolour with a beret and gloves placed on top.
     
  • May 12 - The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) say murder investigation is "challenging", but rule out dissident republican or loyalist paramilitary involvement.
     
  • May 26 - Police reveal an unusual Eastern European weapon was used in the shooting.
     
  • August 12 - Former IRA man Kevin McGuigan, 53, gunned down close to his home at Comber Court in the Short Strand area of east Belfast. Mr McGuigan and Mr Davison had been embroiled in a long-running personal feud and he had been suspected by many within the republican community of involvement in May's murder. There is widespread speculation that Mr McGuigan was killed in a revenge attack carried out by Mr Davison's IRA associates.
     
  • August 13 - Stormont's First Minister and Democratic Unionist leader Peter Robinson warns Sinn Fein it would face expulsion from the power-sharing Executive if the IRA was responsible for shooting Mr McGuigan. Sinn Fein vehemently rejects the suggestion of IRA involvement.
     
  • August 18 - Four men, including IRA Shankill bomber Sean Kelly, are arrested by detectives investigating the killing of Mr McGuigan.
     
  • August 18 - Mourners at the funeral service for Mr McGuigan told violence and revenge do not solve problems. Former Sinn Fein lord mayor of Belfast Niall O Donnghaile, who is from the Short Strand district, the only notable political figure in attendance.
     
  • August 20 - PSNI Detective Superintendent Kevin Geddes says he believes Provisional IRA members were involved in the murder of Mr McGuigan alongside Action Against Drugs (AAD) - a group that includes former IRA members, dissident republicans and criminals. Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams rejects allegations of IRA involvement in the shooting and insists they left the stage in 2005. Mr Robinson reiterates his warning of Sinn Fein expulsion. One of the arrested men - Patrick John Fitzpatrick, 53, from the Lagmore area of Belfast - appears in court charged with possession of a weapon with intent to endanger life. The others detained were released.
     
  • August 22 - PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton says the IRA still exists, but is not on a "war footing". Following crunch talks with political figures at PSNI headquarters, Mr Hamilton says IRA are committed to "promoting peaceful political republicanism". The police chief says he accepts Sinn Fein's bona fides.
     
  • August 23 - Mr Adams tells National Hunger Strike commemoration in Dundalk the IRA "has gone away".
     
  • August 24 - Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers says she is "not surprised" by police assessment that the IRA still exists, but says there is no evidence it is involved in terrorism.
     
  • August 25 - Ireland's Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald orders a fresh assessment of Provisional IRA activity.
     
  • August 26 - The Ulster Unionist Party - a minor partner in the Stormont coalition - announces its intention to resign from the Executive, claiming trust in Sinn Fein had been destroyed. Ireland's police chief, Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan, insists the force had never denied the IRA still exists.
     
  • August 27 - The DUP claims evidence of IRA activity is of sufficient strength to expel Sinn Fein from the Executive.
     
  • August 29 - The UUP's ruling executive endorses Mr Nesbitt's recommendation to withdraw from the Stormont Executive.
     
  • September 1 - DUP leader Mr Robinson meets Prime Minister David Cameron to discuss the crisis. The First Minister calls for a new monitoring body to be established to independently assess IRA activity. The UUP's sole Executive minister - Danny Kennedy - formally resigns.
     
  • September 3 - Mr Cameron and Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny order new talks in a bid to resolve the McGuigan murder crisis and other disputes destabilising Stormont, such as the impasse on the implementation of welfare reforms. PSNI chief Mr Hamilton said he would support any new paramilitary monitoring body.
     
  • September 4 - The US administration urges Northern Ireland politicians to seize the opportunity presented by the new talks.
     
  • September 7 - As the Assembly returns from its summer recess, Mr Robinson says he will prevent any meetings of the Executive happening until the situation is addressed.
     
  • September 8 - Ms Villiers convenes the cross-party negotiations but the UUP says it will only take part in discussions that focus on the IRA.
     
  • September 9 - Senior republicans Mr Copeland, Mr Gillen and Mr Storey, who is Sinn Fein's northern chairman, are arrested in connection with the murder of Mr McGuigan. They bring to 16 the number arrested over the murder. Fitzpatrick remains the only person charged with any offence. In response to the latest arrests, the DUP threatens to resign from the Executive if the Assembly is not adjourned or suspended until the crisis is resolved. Prime Minister David Cameron appeals to Northern Ireland's political leaders to work together as they did during the peace process.
     
  • September 10 - Parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly vote to reject a Democratic Unionist Party proposal to adjourn the power-sharing institutions. Stormont First Minister and Democratic Unionist leader Peter Robinson announces he is to step aside and that party colleague Arlene Foster is to take over as temporary First Minister.
     
  • September 10 - Sinn Fein's northern chairman Bobby Storey is released by detectives investigating the murder of Kevin McGuigan Snr. Two other prominent republicans, Eddie Copeland and Brian Gillen were also released unconditionally.

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