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DUP fail in bid to win Stormont Assembly suspension

By Noel McAdam

A DUP attempt to suspend the Assembly for a month for crunch talks has collapsed amid new recriminations.

Sinn Fein dismissed inter-unionist bickering as "a pantomime" as an angry DUP blamed the Ulster Unionists for the defeat of their plan.

The proposal was, however, also blocked by the SDLP, paving the way for 'business as usual' at Stormont next week - despite the growing sense of crisis engulfing the Assembly.

The DUP move to delay the opening of the Assembly for a month was supported by Alliance which said an adjournment and new talks with a deadline would have been preferable.

Both the DUP and UUP have insisted it cannot be 'business as usual' at Stormont after the PSNI revealed that Provisional IRA members were involved in the killing of Kevin McGuigan last month.

But, in the first meeting of the new political term, the Assembly's business committee yesterday agreed to the normal plenary sessions going ahead next Monday and Tuesday as planned.

Sinn Fein said it had blocked a DUP attempt to delay the opening of the Assembly and dismissed the DUP move as "a pantomime".

Meetings of the business committee, which also includes Alliance, are confidential and no details of the agenda for next week were immediately available. But it is understood no motion to exclude Sinn Fein from the Assembly was tabled.

There had been speculation the committee could agree to extend the Assembly's summer recess to allow for the negotiations suggested by First Minister Peter Robinson. But Sinn Fein's Caitríona Ruane said: "The DUP motion was essentially an attempt to suspend the Assembly by default.

"Today's pantomime between the two main unionist parties is all about the elections and not about good government or meeting the real budget crisis facing our people, our economy and our public services. There is work to be done by all MLAs."

DUP chief whip Peter Weir said following Chief Constable George Hamilton's comment on Mr McGuigan's murder and assertion that elements of the PIRA remain, his party had proposed the Assembly should not meet over the next four weeks.

But he added: "Despite recent tough talking from the UUP they chose to join forces with Sinn Fein today to facilitate a normal business as usual approach at Stormont next week.

"It is becoming clear that the decision to leave the Executive is merely self-serving and totally hypocritical by the Ulster Unionist Party.

"On the one hand Mike (Nesbitt) claims to have withdrawn because of Sinn Fein denials on the IRA while on the other he is happy to vote with them to continue a normal business approach."

But UUP leader Mike Nesbitt hit back: "The DUP need to take a stand, not throw the dummy out of the pram just because they did not get their way at the business committee.

"Why would they want to extend the Assembly's summer break into October, when only days ago they were promising a debate aimed at throwing Sinn Féin out of Stormont? Maybe because that was just more bluster and another empty promise from the DUP.

"We have taken the decision to leave the Executive while the DUP continue to dither and seek a bailout from others."

The SDLP's Alban Maginness argued the DUP proposal was much more about "marking" the UUP than a constructive strategy to not only address the questions over Mr McGuigan's murder but many others over recent years.

"The DUP can go on a work to rule if they wish. The DUP can give up on government if they wish. The SDLP won't give up on politics and won't let down the people," the North Belfast MLA commented.

Alliance, however, argued the status quo is unsustainable.

"If the institutions are to have any realistic chance of survival, the issues need resolved. Talks with a deadline could provide that," a spokesman added.

TUV leader Jim Allister said despite claims last week, the DUP failed to table an exclusion motion against Sinn Fein for the business committee to put on the Assembly agenda for debate next week.

The DUP, however, responded: "We will choose the timing of any exclusion motion or motions. Jim Allister appears to have no questions for a party (the UUP) seeking to protect Sinn Fein."

Belfast Telegraph


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