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Stormont crisis: Ulster Unionist Party pulls out of talks

Arlene Foster: Mike Nesbitt is the master of hokey cokey politics

By Lesley-Anne McKeown and Michael McHugh

Published 08/09/2015

Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt (right) and MLA Michael McGimpsey speak to reporters outside Stormont in Belfast. Photo: Niall Carson/PA
Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt (right) and MLA Michael McGimpsey speak to reporters outside Stormont in Belfast. Photo: Niall Carson/PA
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams (second left) and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (centre) outside Stormont in Belfast as they arrive for negotiations on the future of the power-sharing administration in Northern Ireland. Photo: Niall Carson/PA
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams (second left) and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (centre) outside Stormont in Belfast as they arrive for negotiations on the future of the power-sharing administration in Northern Ireland. Photo: Niall Carson/PA

The Ulster Unionist Party has withdrawn from any political talks which do not primarily deal with the existence of the IRA.

Leader Mike Nesbitt said they would not discuss the Stormont House Agreement which tackled outstanding peace process issues until the paramilitarism had been resolved.

Intensive talks were launched by the British and Irish governments after revelations the IRA still existed and members shot a man dead in Belfast last month.

Mr Nesbitt said: "This is the issue and the only issue that we will speak on.

"We will consider going into the session which deals with the IRA. We will consider it but we need to see the papers and the terms of engagement.

"That is what we said about going into these talks. Who would be there, what are the terms of engagement and what is the agenda?

"The fact that no other party supported us and said 'let's change this proposed agenda, forget the Stormont House Agreement until we resolve the issue of Sinn Fein being in denial about the IRA' is frankly appalling.

"I made clear our participation was dependent on who was involved, the terms of reference, and the agenda items.

"I objected to the agenda being front-loaded with sessions about the Stormont House Agreement, as if Kevin McGuigan had not been murdered, and the PSNI had not identified IRA involvement.

"I called for the talks to begin with the fact that Sinn Fein, the PSNI and the Government are not on the same page regarding the IRA, its structures and the intelligence that indicates IRA members murdered Kevin McGuigan. Regrettably, there was no support for making that the first point of business.

"We took a principled stand to withdraw from the Northern Ireland Executive on the issue of Sinn Fein’s lack of credibility.  On that basis, we will remain consistent, and not participate in political talks unless and until this matter is resolved."

Responding to the move DUP MLA for Fermanagh & South Tyrone Arlene Foster said the Mike Nesbitt is the master of hokey cokey politics but lacks any real substance.

Mrs Foster said: "One day Mike Nesbitt is in the Executive and the next day he’s out.  One day he’s in the talks and the next day he’s out. His position is a muddle and clearly being made up as he moves along.  Tomorrow Mike’s position will undoubtedly be decided by whatever way the wind is blowing.

"Nesbitt’s antics and inability to explain his position shows he lacks any real substance.  As each day passes Nesbitt is being exposed as lacking any meaningful ideas.

"Mike’s big idea to deal with welfare amounted to moving more money into mental health.  We all want to spend more on mental health but doing that doesn’t resolve the welfare problem."

The ministerial Executive at Stormont has been under threat of collapse since police said IRA members were involved in the murder of Kevin McGuigan in east Belfast last month.

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Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt (right) and MLA Michael McGimpsey speak to reporters outside Stormont in Belfast. Photo: Niall Carson/PA
Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt (right) and MLA Michael McGimpsey speak to reporters outside Stormont in Belfast. Photo: Niall Carson/PA

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Police believe Mr McGuigan was killed by individual members of the Provisional IRA in revenge for the death of prominent republican Gerard "Jock" Davison in May.

Although Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Chief Constable George Hamilton has insisted the IRA is not back on a war footing, disclosure that the organisation still exists has rocked the political establishment.

First Minister Peter Robinson said: "If the Assembly and Executive falls we are probably talking about the best part of a decade before it would ever be revived.

"These are extremely important talks. We enter it in a very serious manner."

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams (second left) and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (centre) outside Stormont in Belfast as they arrive for negotiations on the future of the power-sharing administration in Northern Ireland. Photo: Niall Carson/PA
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams (second left) and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (centre) outside Stormont in Belfast as they arrive for negotiations on the future of the power-sharing administration in Northern Ireland. Photo: Niall Carson/PA

Mr Robinson also said the chief constable was to be invited to take part in the talks process.

He added: "The request that was put today to the Government for the chief constable to come to the talks process was made by the DUP. We will be there to hear him.

"The issues that have to be dealt with all have to be dealt with before anything is agreed by us. If the issue of the paramilitary involvement is not resolved, then there will be no overall agreement."

Unionists have pressed for measures to allow space for negotiations which are due to begin between the five main Executive parties.

But, outlining the British Government's position in a speech to the House of Commons, Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers said the time was not right to suspend the political institutions.

She said: "The Government does not feel that the time would be right to suspend the institutions at this stage and under these circumstances.

"If the circumstances were to change in the future, we would of course need to look at all our options."

On Monday, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Northern Ireland's largest party, said there would be no further routine meetings of the ministerial Executive until the latest crisis was resolved.

If the latest round of crunch talks, expected to last four to six weeks, are unsuccessful, Mr Robinson has warned he would pull his ministers out.

The Ulster Unionist Party withdrew its only Executive minister Danny Kennedy in August, claiming it could no longer trust republicans.

Meanwhile Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has called for an "earnest endeavour" at the start of all-party talks about paramilitarism and welfare reform.

Creating a workable budget for the devolved institutions at Stormont and implementing last year's Stormont House Agreement will be part of discussions covering the next four weeks.

Mr McGuinness said: "Our position is that the IRA are gone, that they represent no threat whatsoever.

"What we need to do is find a way forward that ensures a workable budget for the Executive, the implementation of the Stormont House Agreement and the British Government living up to its responsibilities and also to find a way forward which allows everybody to be involved in earnest endeavour."

He said there were people in parts of Belfast and Londonderry who "masquerade" as republicans and purported to be the IRA, adding to the mix of confusion about whether the IRA existed.

PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton asked to attend

Northern Ireland's most senior police officer could be summoned before crisis talks aimed at saving the region's crisis-hit political institutions.

If cross-party negotiations fail, it could be a decade before devolved power-sharing in Belfast is restored, First Minister Peter Robinson said.

The warning came as the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) said it would not take part in crunch talks unless the status of the IRA was resolved.

Mr Robinson said: "If the Assembly and Executive falls we are probably talking about the best part of a decade before it would ever be revived. These are extremely important talks."

The ministerial Executive at Stormont has been under threat of collapse since police said IRA members were involved in the murder of Kevin McGuigan in east Belfast last month.

Police believe Mr McGuigan was killed by individual members of the Provisional IRA in revenge for the death of prominent republican Gerard "Jock" Davison in May.

Although Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Chief Constable George Hamilton has insisted the IRA is not back on a war footing, disclosure that the organisation still exists has rocked the political establishment.

Discussions, scheduled to last for four to six weeks, were launched by the British and Irish governments at Stormont House.

Mr Robinson added: "The request that was put today to the government for the chief constable to come to the talks process was made by the DUP. We will be there to hear him.

"The issues that have to be dealt with all have to be dealt with before anything is agreed by us. If the issue of the paramilitary involvement is not resolved, then there will be no overall agreement."

Unionists have pressed for measures including a temporary suspension of the Assembly to allow space for negotiations which have begun between the five main Executive parties.

But, outlining the British Government's position in a speech to the House of Commons, Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers said the time was not right for direct rule.

She said: "The Government does not feel that the time would be right to suspend the institutions at this stage and under these circumstances.

"If the circumstances were to change in the future, we would of course need to look at all our options."

On Monday, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Northern Ireland's largest party, said there would be no further routine meetings of the ministerial Executive until the latest crisis was resolved.

The Ulster Unionist Party has withdrawn its only Executive minister Danny Kennedy, claiming it could no longer trust republicans.

Leader Mike Nesbitt said they would not discuss the Stormont House Agreement, which tackled outstanding peace process issues, until the issue of paramilitarism had been resolved.

After the negotiations, he said: "This is the issue and the only issue that we will speak on. We will consider going into the session which deals with the IRA."

He later added: "We took a principled stand to withdraw from the Northern Ireland Executive on the issue of Sinn Fein's lack of credibility.

"On that basis, we will remain consistent and not participate in political talks unless and until this matter is resolved."

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