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First Minister Peter Robinson steps down as Assembly parties reject DUP plan

Published 10/09/2015

Stormont institutions are teetering on the brink amid a major political crisis
Stormont institutions are teetering on the brink amid a major political crisis

Stormont First Minister Peter Robinson is standing aside, and the majority of his Democratic Unionist ministers are to resign, after a vote by parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly reject a DUP proposal to adjourn the power-sharing institutions.

The surprise move from the DUP leader comes amid an Assembly crisis in the wake of a murder linked to the IRA murder.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny had urged the SDLP not to vote against adjournment in an eleventh hour meeting in Dublin this morning.

However, the nationalist party, which was one of the architects of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, ultimately decided to oppose the move.

SDLP leader Dr Alasdair McDonnell said: "Adjournment would not have added anything, an adjournment would have been there and when the adjournment was over we would still have been drifting toward suspension. The adjournment was not the solution and we looked at this long and hard."

Mr Robinson had warned that his ministers would resign if the Assembly was not adjourned or the British Government did not suspend the institutions.

The DUP step will not bring an immediate collapse of the Assembly institutions. DUP colleague Arlene Foster is to take over as acting First Minister.

Executive departments will still function under the temporary arrangements but the Executive will not meet.

Mrs Foster, a Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA, is the current finance minister and she will also continue in that role.

Mr Robinson said: "In light of the decision by republicans, nationalists and the UUP to continue with business as usual in the Assembly, I am therefore standing aside as First Minister and other DUP ministers will resign with immediate effect with the exception of Arlene Foster.

"I have asked Arlene to remain in post as Finance Minister and acting First Minister to ensure that nationalists and republicans are not able to take financial and other decisions that may be detrimental to Northern Ireland."

British Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers said she would not be suspending the devolved institutions and called on the local parties to come together.

She said the DUP resignations would mean the functioning of the Executive became much more difficult.

"It is a sign of a complete breakdown in working relationships within the Executive."

The DUP wanted all Assembly business suspended to allow crisis talks to take place about the political consequences of the murder of Kevin McGuigan.

Mr Robinson's announcement came after Sinn Fein, the SDLP and the Ulster Unionists voted against a DUP proposal to adjourn the Assembly.

He issued his ultimatum on Wednesday after the arrest of three senior republicans, including Sinn Fein's northern chairman Bobby Storey, over the fatal shooting of former IRA man Mr McGuigan. The men remain in custody.

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

Sinn Fein President and Louth TD Gerry Adams said: "The decision of the (Assembly's) business committee is a very, very clear democratic reiteration of the integrity of these institutions and of the need and the wish for these institutions to continue the work which we were all elected to do on behalf of citizens in this state and across this island."

The Ulster Unionists have already resigned from the Executive, claiming trust in Sinn Fein has been destroyed, but unlike the DUP they did not have the electoral weight to bring the institutions down by leaving them.

Alliance leader David Ford heavily criticised the UUP and SDLP and accused them of betraying the past generations of their parties which helped forge the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

"John Hume and David Trimble (former SDLP and UUP leaders) sacrificed their parties for the sake of the peace process," he said.

"Today the current leadership of the Ulster Unionists and SDLP has sacrificed the peace process. For what?"

Mrs Foster, a Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA, is the current finance minister and she will also continue in that role.

Mr Robinson said: "In light of the decision by republicans, nationalists and the UUP to continue with business as usual in the Assembly, I am therefore standing aside as First Minister and other DUP ministers will resign with immediate effect with the exception of Arlene Foster.

"I have asked Arlene to remain in post as Finance Minister and acting First Minister to ensure that nationalists and republicans are not able to take financial and other decisions that may be detrimental to Northern Ireland."

British Prime Minister David Cameron is "gravely concerned" about the situation and was phoning Mr Robinson and Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers to discuss developments, said Downing Street.

Mr Cameron's official spokeswoman said: "The Prime Minister is gravely concerned about the situation. As he was saying in the House yesterday, we want to see all politicians in Northern Ireland working together to build a better future for the country and working to fulfil its great potential.

We have been encouraging talks between the parties so they can work through their issues."

Asked whether the PM was considering suspending the Assembly, the spokeswoman said: "There are obviously now different people calling for different things, and the Prime Minister's calls with the Secretary of State and the First Minister are an opportunity for us to consider what steps should be taken next."

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