Belfast Telegraph

Government 'keen to resolve issues'

The Government has said it is very keen to resolve outstanding Northern Ireland peace process issues.

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers met Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and nationalist SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell for separate discussions today.

Disagreement between powersharing partners over issues like welfare reform, controversial parades and flags and dealing with the legacy of violence has threatened the devolved coalition at Stormont, political leaders have warned.

Mr McGuinness has said he expected wide-ranging negotiations involving the British and Irish governments would take place soon. He supported a reduction in the size of the devolved assembly to show politicians are prepared to accept part of the pain caused by budget cuts.

An official source said: "She (Ms Villiers) wants to hear from all the parties first and is very clear that there has to be agreement on all sides."

London or Dublin involvement is not considered a substitute for local decision making.

"Government is very keen to resolve these issues."

Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson said the mandatory coalition led by the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein was no longer fit for purpose.

In a dramatic intervention, the DUP leader called for a second take on the 2006 St Andrews Agreement that paved the way for the return of devolution in May 2007, when then DUP leader Ian Paisley and Mr McGuinness became first and deputy first ministers.

Mr Robinson said the St Andrews Agreement - which included an elaborate system of checks, allowed one party to block changes and provided no significant opposition - was only a short-term solution and called for renewed negotiations involving the British Government as well as smaller parties not currently on the five-party Executive.

Mr Robinson also said the Executive could not continue to operate if there was no agreement on welfare reform.

Ms Villiers has been engaged in political meetings on the back of Mr Robinson's suggestions, discussing the potential for new party talks. She is also keen on a resumption of negotiations on dealing with controversial parades, flags and dealing with the legacy of past violence which broke down at the end of last year.

Ms Villiers met Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt recently.

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