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Stormont crisis: Powersharing in Northern Ireland hangs by a thread as parties are split over how to resolve deadlock following fallout over Kevin McGuigan murder

By David Young and Michael McHugh

Published 09/09/2015

UUP has already resigned from the Executive, claiming trust in Sinn Fein has been destroyed
UUP has already resigned from the Executive, claiming trust in Sinn Fein has been destroyed

Powersharing in Northern Ireland hangs by a thread after the Democratic Unionist Party vowed to collapse the institutions if they are not suspended to deal with the fallout from Kevin McGuigan murder.

First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson issued the ultimatum following the arrest of three senior republicans, including Sinn Fein's northern chairman Bobby Storey, over the shooting of former IRA man Kevin McGuigan.

Peter Robinson says DUP ministers will quit Executive if the Assembly is not adjourned or suspended. Pic: by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Peter Robinson says DUP ministers will quit Executive if the Assembly is not adjourned or suspended. Pic: by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
DUP leader and First Minister Peter Robinson along with party colleagues address the media. Pic: Jonathan Porter/PressEye

Mr Robinson said if other parties in the Assembly did not back the suspension move in a crunch vote tomorrow, or if the Government did not act to suspend proceedings in the absence of that vote, then he and fellow ministers would resign immediately.

With the DUP unlikely to garner sufficient support for suspension among the other parties, and the Government as yet showing no inclination to legislate to suspend the institutions, the collapse of powersharing tomorrow is a very real prospect.

Sinn Fein said Prime Minister David Cameron has told the party he will not suspend the Assembly.

Mr Robinson said: "The DUP has made it clear it will not be involved in business as usual.

"Other parties must now step up to the mark and stop the Assembly from proceeding as if nothing has happened.

"We have attempted to create the space for these matters to be dealt with, but if others want the Assembly to function normally in spite of Sinn Fein's position, we will have reached the point where, as a last resort, we will take this final step."

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Deputy First Minister and Sinn Fein Martin McGuinness along with party colleagues speaks to the press in the Great Hall at Parliament Buildings, Stormont in east Belfast, as political talks continue regarding the future of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Deputy First Minister and Sinn Fein Martin McGuinness along with party colleagues speaks to the press in the Great Hall at Parliament Buildings, Stormont in east Belfast, as political talks continue regarding the future of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

People waiting in the shadows to exploit a political vacuum, says Rev Harold Good

Stormont crisis: DUP threatens to collapse powersharing institutions  

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

The revelations about the IRA has heaped pressure on Sinn Fein to explain why the supposedly defunct paramilitary organisation is still in existence.

The Ulster Unionists have already resigned from the Executive, claiming trust in Sinn Fein has been destroyed.

While the exit of one of the minor partners in the five party coalition did not bring a collapse, if the DUP follows suit the institutions will fall automatically.

Fr Alex Reid and Rev Harold Good (far right) who watched as IRA weapons were destroyed in 2005
Fr Alex Reid and Rev Harold Good (far right) who watched as IRA weapons were destroyed in 2005
Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt (right) and MLA Michael McGimpsey speak to reporters outside Stormont in Belfast. Photo: Niall Carson/PA

The DUP wants the Assembly to be suspended until the McGuigan crisis is resolved.

The party will ask for a special meeting of the Assembly's business committee to convene tomorrow to vote on suspension.

If the committee does not vote for suspension, the focus will then shift to Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers, who could legislate to suspend the devolved administration.

Theresa Villiers has warned that the future of Stormont's political institutions is in jeopardy.
Theresa Villiers has warned that the future of Stormont's political institutions is in jeopardy.

Mr Robinson said Ms Villiers had not shown any inclination to take such action in her public comments to date.

He said if suspension does not occur he and his ministerial colleagues will walk away from the administration immediately.

Sinn Fein has claimed competition for electoral support between the Ulster Unionists and Democratic Unionists was driving the crisis.

Kevin McGuigan's murder has provoked a political crisis at Stormont
Kevin McGuigan's murder has provoked a political crisis at Stormont

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness branded those involved in the murder of Mr McGuigan "criminals" who were "no friends" of his party.

He accused the DUP and UUP of a failure of leadership. He said their actions were "foolhardy, foolish and totally devoid of the quality of leadership that is required".

"The demand, the ultimatum, that has been issued that the institutions be adjourned Sinn Fein is opposed to," he said.

"We are not going to jump to the tune of the inter-party rivalry that is being played out among both unionist parties at this time and I think it would be a grave mistake for the British government to suspend these institutions.

"I think it would send a very negative message and would be grist to the mill of those who in the past have tried to plunge us back to the past.

"I have spoken in recent days to the British government and I have spoken to the Taoiseach (Enda Kenny) this afternoon. David Cameron told me he would not suspend the institutions, the Taoiseach told me this afternoon he was totally opposed to the suspension of the institutions. So I think what is required over the course of the next number of hours and into tomorrow is a period of reflection for those who are involved in this inter-party rivalry."

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said his party's position had been vindicated.

"There is one issue here - the fact the IRA still exists and Sinn Fein are in denial," he said.

"So there is only one fix and I cannot supply it, the DUP cannot supply it, for all their bluster. The only person who can supply the fix is Gerry Adams. Gerry Adams has to admit the IRA exists, with a structure. Without that, talks of adjournments and suspensions and talks - it's all bluster. It's down to Gerry Adams to tell the truth."

The Rev Harold Good, who witnessed IRA arms decommissioning in 2005, warned against any political vacuum.

"There are people out there waiting in the shadows, across our community, who would take advantage and exploit this opportunity for another agenda."

People waiting in the shadows to exploit any political vacuum

People in the shadows could exploit any vacuum created by the collapse of power-sharing in Northern Ireland, a minister who witnessed IRA arms decommissioning warned.

The Rev Harold Good, a former president of the Methodist Church, saw the IRA destroys its guns in 2005. It was a crucial milestone in the peace process which ended decades of conflict.

Mr Good visited Stormont today and said years of work could be lost if the devolved administration imploded.

"Many of us are fearful that all we have put into this and all that other people have worked for could get lost just too speedily, too swiftly.

"How difficult it would be to get it back. Let's remember that and let's think also about the vacuum that would be left, we could be back to square one.

"There are people out there waiting in the shadows, across our community, who would take advantage and exploit this opportunity for another agenda."

Mr Good joined forces with Catholic priest Fr Alec Reid, a long-time confidant of Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams who arranged ground-breaking talks between Mr Adams and then SDLP leader John Hume, to witness decommissioning.

Canadian General John de Chastelain led an international independent commission on decommissioning, which oversaw the destruction of weapons.

It was a pivotal moment in the peace process, coming after a 30-year conflict during which the IRA killed nearly 2,000 people, and was followed by Sinn Fein accepting policing, the rule of law and the restoration of devolution

Mr Good joined a group of church, voluntary and trade union figures at Stormont to highlight the peril if that devolution settlement came apart.

He added: "We cannot afford to have our institutions collapse. We are representing our young people, the folks with whom we live and work, and demanding that we do not lose our institutions for which they and all of us have worked so hard."

McGuinness: Sinn Fein 'won't jump to tune of inter-party rivalry'

Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness branded those involved in the murder of Mr McGuigan "criminals" who were "no friends" of his party.

He accused the DUP and UUP of a failure of leadership. He said their actions were "foolhardy, foolish and totally devoid of the quality of leadership that is required".

"The demand, the ultimatum, that has been issued that the institutions be adjourned Sinn Fein is opposed to," he said.

"We are not going to jump to the tune of the inter-party rivalry that is being played out among both unionist parties at this time and I think it would be a grave mistake for the British government to suspend these institutions.

"I think it would send a very negative message and would be grist to the mill of those who in the past have tried to plunge us back to the past.

"I have spoken in recent days to the British government and I have spoken to the Taoiseach (Enda Kenny) this afternoon. David Cameron told me he would not suspend the institutions, the Taoiseach told me this afternoon he was totally opposed to the suspension of the institutions. So I think what is required over the course of the next number of hours and into tomorrow is a period of reflection for those who are involved in this inter-party rivalry."

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said his party's position had been vindicated.

"There is one issue here - the fact the IRA still exists and Sinn Fein are in denial," he said.

"So there is only one fix and I cannot supply it, the DUP cannot supply it, for all their bluster. The only person who can supply the fix is Gerry Adams. Gerry Adams has to admit the IRA exists, with a structure. Without that, talks of adjournments and suspensions and talks - it's all bluster. It's down to Gerry Adams to tell the truth."

On Wednesday night Tom Elliott, Ulster Unionist MP for Fermanagh & South Tyrone, said the UUP would support an adjournment of the Assembly "if Gerry Adams comes up to the mark".

Mr Elliott said: "This mess has been created by Sinn Fein. Their public comments are simply not credible. The fix to this mess lies with republicans by building credibility. Until Sinn Fein, the two governments and the PSNI are on the same page with regards to the existence of the IRA, there will be little trust or confidence.

"The calls for an adjournment under the present circumstances, and all the rest, is bluster - a sham. It is not business as usual in the Assembly because the Ulster Unionist Party acted decisively two weeks ago. We left the Executive. Since then others have ducked and dithered. It was a pity that not one party would support us at the talks yesterday when we wanted to put terrorism and the credibility of Sinn Fein's reaction to recent events at the top of the agenda. Our position has now been fully vindicated.

"We will not be u-turning just to let others cling to office. We will support an adjournment if Gerry Adams comes up to the mark. We will not turn a blind eye to recent events.

"We want the institutions to work and we remain committed to our vision of a truly shared, peaceful, prosperous and fair society. It's over to Sinn Fein."

Alliance leader David Ford said parties need to "stop and think" before jeopardising the power-sharing institutions permanently.

Mr Ford added that Alliance was exploring options regarding the future of the Assembly, saying "a calm atmosphere was needed in which to conduct talks aimed at resolving the current crisis at Stormont".

Mr Ford said: "We must be wary that there is still an ongoing police investigation and there have been no charges brought to anyone arrested in connection with the murder of Kevin McGuigan," he said.

"Whilst the potential implications from these latest arrests would be grave, it is vital no-one acts based on just speculation and not facts.

"Alliance is exploring a number of options regarding the future of the Assembly in order to allow parties to take a step back and participate in talks in a calm manner. That will allow the urgent necessary work to take place so we can both reach a political solution to this crisis and permit the police investigation to continue."

Steven Agnew MLA, leader of the Green Party in Northern Ireland, said parties should focus energy on the issues of homelessness, poverty, health and education.

Mr Agnew said: "Once again, the Assembly has been thrown in to disarray.

"This is clearly a serious situation and I continue to call on the Secretary of State to instigate an independent evaluation of the state of the Northern Ireland peace process, with particular reference to the current status of the Provisional IRA.

"There are many issues that need to be tackled in Northern Ireland, from poverty to economic development, homelessness to health, the environment and education to name but a few, on which we, as politicians, should be focusing our energies.

"The electorate, the people of Northern Ireland who we represent, deserve better and I would like to see decisions of all parties based on evidence rather than assumptions."

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