Belfast Telegraph

Robinson warning of Stormont crisis

Northern Ireland's power-sharing government is no longer fit for purpose, the First Minister has warned.

Peter Robinson said Stormont's mandatory coalition led by his Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein could not continue in its current form.

"Unless we face and conquer the deficiencies in our arrangements, we will not be the guardians of a process regarded as a splendid exemplar to the world but rather we will become a cautionary tale, warning of the dangers of drift and dithering," he said.

However, Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness insisted the current difficulties could be overcome.

He said: "Megaphone or media-based negotiations are counter-productive.

"We have overcome enormous challenges in the past by treating each other with a degree of respect. With the support and engagement of the two governments and the US administration I'm confident we can find a resolution to our current difficulties."

In a dramatic intervention, Mr Robinson also 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.

He said the St Andrews Agreement - which included an elaborate system of checks, allowed one party to block changes and provided no significant opposition - w as 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 added: "We always recognised that compromising effectiveness and efficiency for sound and justified political expediency could not be a permanent feature. It is my view that the present arrangements are no longer fit for purpose."

In an opinion piece penned for the Belfast Telegraph newspaper, the DUP leader warned that fundamental disagreement over controversial welfare reforms could be the tipping point. He said an election may have to be called to resolve the issue.

The deadlock threatens to strip millions from budgets for public spending and could result in the loss of thousands of public sector jobs because of massive fines threatened by the Treasury.

Mr Robinson said: "It is transparently untenable for the Assembly and Executive to be sustainable while carrying the cost burden flowing from a failure to follow the national Government's welfare reform changes."

Sinn Fein has vehemently opposed implementing the cuts and has argued that the Executive demand further concessions from Westminster. The DUP claim avoiding the cuts is unworkable.

The relationship between the two largest parties has become increasingly strained over recent months.

Last year, the DUP said it would no longer support the building of a peace and conflict resolution centre on the site of a former paramilitary prison in Co Antrim.

Talks on contentious issues surrounding flags, parades and dealing with the legacy of thousands of conflict murders have also been put on hold.

And in the latest controversy, it has emerged that the First and Deputy First Ministers could not even agree on a response to Northern Ireland's most senior judge Sir Declan Morgan over comments made by an MLA about the rule of law.

In a statement the Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister, who supports an opposition being established at Stormont, said the current system of government required root-and-branch change.

He said: "It is not a sticking plaster approach which Stormont needs, but root-and-branch change, whereby mandatory coalition and its crippling mutual vetoes are ditched.

"It is inevitable that one day the present unworkable Stormont will implode."

Prime Minister David Cameron's official spokesman told a regular Westminster media briefing that he was not aware of Mr Robinson's comments, adding: "The Government's focus is on supporting the political parties in Northern Ireland, voted for by people in Northern Ireland, in terms of making the political devolution powers there work.

"That has been and remains the Government's and the Prime Minister's view."

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said he agreed that Stormont was dysfunctional.

He said: "Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness adopted an 'Ourselves Alone' attitude to government. Now they have fallen out, the carve-up has become a face-off.

"The fix is a fairer deal.

"A system of government that does not offer the electorate the ability to change who governs them is not proper democracy."

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