Belfast Telegraph

Chief Constable may be summoned to take part in vital Stormont talks

By Liam Clarke

The Chief Constable could make an appearance at the talks to save Stormont, it can be revealed.

First Minister Peter Robinson said he had asked the Government to summon PSNI chief George Hamilton to the crunch negotiations. And the DUP leader warned that if the talks failed, it could be 10 years before the Assembly makes a return.

"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," Mr Robinson said. "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."

And he added: "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."

Meanwhile, Mike Nesbitt has walked out of talks saying he won't return until the IRA-linked killing of Kevin McGuigan is top of the agenda. The Ulster Unionist leader complained that the first item to be discussed this morning will be implementing the Stormont House Agreement, which was concluded last year but not put into practice.

The intensive talks were launched by the British and Irish governments in the wake of the murder of Kevin McGuigan.

The PSNI believe individual members of the Provisional IRA shot him dead in revenge for the death of prominent republican Gerard 'Jock' Davison in May

Mr Hamilton has insisted the IRA was not back on a war footing but still existed to pursue a peaceful political republican agenda.

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."

Earlier Theresa Villiers ruled there was no more money for welfare - and she would rather take the powers back to Westminster than hand over extra funding. She added that she had no plans to suspend the Assembly or expel Sinn Fein, but might do if circumstances change.

During a report to the House of Commons on the current Stormont crisis, Ms Villiers insisted the talks, which started last night, will be short and focused - four or five weeks.

Earlier, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, who clashed with David Cameron at previous talks, said decisions on suspension were "above her pay grade". Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness added that "her boss" Mr Cameron had spoken differently to him.

Irish Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan was disappointed that she had envisaged "unilateral action" but he hoped the talks would avoid it.

The discussions aim to secure the implementation of the Stormont House Agreement, which released Government loans in return for commitments to welfare reform. Funding to make 20,000 public servants voluntarily redundant is involved, although Ms Villiers confirmed that her Government is prepared to press ahead with the scheme.

The McGuigan murder and paramilitary activity is also being discussed.

Last night Ms Villiers described the opening of the talks as "genuinely constructive".

Earlier in the Commons, she said that "the Government do not feel that it would be right to suspend the institutions at this stage and in these circumstances".

But she added: "If the circumstances were to change, we would need to look at all our options."

She added: "As for the welfare reform matters, I said that we would be prepared to legislate as a last resort, but we are not at that stage yet.

"My priority will be working with the parties to find a way to ensure that the welfare package in the Stormont House resolution is implemented."

Ms Villiers said the Government wanted "a Northern Ireland where a stronger economy brings greater prosperity for all".

"And a Northern Ireland that is no longer defined by its divided past but by its shared future".

Unionists claimed to be surprised that the IRA still existed but the Northern Ireland Secretary disagreed.

"The assessment that I have been given by security advisers during my time as Secretary of State is broadly in line with the summary given by the Chief Constable that I outlined earlier: the continued existence of some organisational structures, with no involvement in paramilitarism or terrorism, but with individual members pursuing criminality for personal gain to pursue personal agendas."

She added that only parties fully committed to exclusively peaceful means should be allowed to participate in Northern Ireland's political institutions, and she currently believes Sinn Fein is one of those parties.

"But I am fully aware that the fallout from the murder of Kevin McGuigan and the continued existence of PIRA structures is a cause of grave concern," she added.

Belfast Telegraph


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