Belfast Telegraph

'Business as usual' without leader

A temporary first minister is not being appointed in Northern Ireland despite a growing political crisis , a senior Democratic Unionist has said.

Party leader Peter Robinson, 66, underwent a procedure at Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital (RVH) yesterday following a suspected heart attack and is stable in medical care.

His deputy Nigel Dodds said they had a strong team to progress any negotiations about the future of the badly-split devolved power-sharing government.

He said: "We have not taken any decision yet in relation to putting in an acting first minister. We will wait and see what the situation is. We will keep that under review."

Mr Robinson's health problems saw him miss a crucial Assembly debate on welfare reform which has been threatening to collapse the political institutions at Stormont because of divisions between Sinn Fein and the DUP.

Mr Dodds said: "We have a very, very strong team, both at Westminster and in the Assembly and Executive ministers, and we will take things forward in terms of any discussions and negotiations with that team. Hopefully, Peter will be able to return very, very soon.

"We will continue to resolutely put forward our view. People know where we stand, that is why we have not abandoned today's proceedings in the Assembly.

"We will carry on and we will have business as usual."

Mr Robinson was transferred in an ambulance to the RVH's specialist cardiac unit after seeking treatment early yesterday morning at the Ulster Hospital, which is close to his home near Belfast.

A contentious voting mechanism triggered by Sinn Fein and the SDLP has thrown the future of legislation to implement changes to the benefits system into major doubt. The DUP has warned that blocking the Bill will land the Executive with an unsustainable £600 million funding gap.

Mr Dodds said: "We have made it very, very clear that we have run out of road as far as the welfare reform issue is concerned.

"There have been full negotiations; it is not a question of this business of 'let's all get together and talk to the Government and negotiate', there have been full negotiations before Christmas, it resulted in an agreement, we want to see that agreement implemented.

"If it cannot be implemented and if people will not face up to economic and political reality in Sinn Fein and elements of the SDLP then it is over to the British Government, it is over to them to say what they are going to do and in our view they have to step in and take welfare reform powers.

"Remember Scotland, with its strong devolution settlement in the Scottish Parliament - welfare is not a devolved matter so it is clear that there is precedent in this area and the Government needs to act, in our view, to resolve the crisis."

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