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Stormont crisis: Talks start with warning from angry Martin McGuinness of early breakdown

By Liam Clarke

Published 22/09/2015

DUP leader Peter Robinson with Arlene Foster at Stormont yesterday
DUP leader Peter Robinson with Arlene Foster at Stormont yesterday
Tourists snap Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness, Michelle O’Neill and Gerry Adams

Crisis talks to save Stormont have only just started - and already there are signs of strain and predictions of a possible breakdown next month.

As he entered the talks, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness warned that the talks could collapse after four weeks when the security assessment commissioned by the Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers is completed.

"Our main concern is that it should not override the democratic institutions," a Sinn Fein source said. "It should not be allowed to eject parties or bypass elections."

In contrast, First Minister Peter Robinson called on the review body to be made permanent.

In the talks, Mr McGuinness called on anyone with evidence linking Sinn Fein to criminality to tell the police. "It is now time to put up or shut up... I won't put up with any more nonsense," he said outside Stormont.

Mr McGuinness is still looking for London to pour more money in to ease Northern Ireland's welfare crisis. It was caused when the Government changed the welfare system and the changes were blocked at Stormont by Sinn Fein and the SDLP.

"The British Government created the current budgetary crisis and must play a full and positive part in resolving this issue so that the Executive has a workable budget," Mr McGuinness said.

He added: "The Irish government too must act as a co-guarantor to the Good Friday and other agreements to support the full implementation of commitments made including its commitment on the A5."

The administration has been teetering on the verge of collapse since the murder of Kevin McGuigan, an IRA veteran from Belfast's Markets area, last month.

The police said IRA members, but not necessarily the organisation, were involved and the security review has been ordered as a result.

The prospect of the assessment seemed to increasingly annoy Mr McGuinness yesterday. In a break between three sessions of talks, he vented his frustration by accusing other parties of being "mischievous" by suggesting Sinn Fein was involved in criminality.

"If anybody has any information whatsoever about any party in government being involved in criminality, then they should put it up on the table and, more importantly, they should put it to the PSNI," he said.

Peter Robinson, who had been released from hospital on Sunday night after having his heart medicine adjusted following an adverse reaction, backs the review. "This will be a comprehensive review of all of the paramilitary groups right across Northern Ireland and what their activity level is," he said.

Asked why he came to the talks at all, he quipped: "I wouldn't miss it." Mr Robinson has stepped aside as First Minister, and most of his ministers have resigned in protest against the violence.

As part of their protest, intended to ensure that it isn't 'business as usual' at the Assembly, DUP ministers are reappointed each week and then resign. The last time they signed some Bills in the brief time they were there.

Danny Kennedy, the sole UUP minister, also resigned his seat and yesterday his party declined to reclaim it, saying it was now in opposition. Mr Robinson nominated Michelle McIlveen, a DUP MLA, to take the post. She resigned after signing some ministerial papers.

The Ulster Unionists have withdrawn from talks before. Party leader Mike Nesbitt said his party was entering the talks "with some concerns, not least about whether there will be a two-party carve-up in a parallel process".

This is a signal that he cannot be counted on to provide support unless his views are fully taken into account.

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers described yesterday's talks as "focused and productive".

Today they will concentrate on finance and welfare issues.

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