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NI ministers will 'renominate and resign' to keep roles from Sinn Fein

Published 11/09/2015

Arlene Foster was named acting first minister after the mass resignation of her party colleagues
Arlene Foster was named acting first minister after the mass resignation of her party colleagues
DUP leader Peter Robinson wants to keep ministerial roles from Sinn Fein

Democratic Unionist ministers 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.

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.

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."

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".

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.

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.

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