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Gerry Kelly claims Theresa Villiers has damaged Stormont talks - and says Sinn Fein will not sign up to Troubles legislation

By Claire Cromie

Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly has delivered a stinging criticism of Theresa Villiers, accusing her of doing "damage" to the Stormont talks.

The Northern Ireland Secretary wants to legislate for new mechanisms to deal with the legacy of the Troubles, establishing investigative and truth recovery bodies agreed in last year's Stormont House Agreement.

However, the law will contain a commencement clause meaning the new structures will only come in to operation if the parties resolve their current disputes about other elements of the Stormont House deal, in particular the impasse over the non-implementation of welfare reforms in the region.

Speaking in Parliament Buildings today, Gerry Kelly MLA said: "It's not good enough for the representative of the British Government to come in and sloganise and make statements and have predetermined outcomes, whether that's the issue of the Tory cuts or the issue of the legislation in terms of legacy.

"This needs to be something which does what the families want it to do. Everybody said the victims and the families were at the centre of the legacy process. Clearly from this legislation they are not and that needs to be changed.

"We will not be signing up to the legislation as it sits."

He continued his critique: "She is not there as a commentator, she is there as a participant - and she has done more damage to these talks in terms of her coming in with a predetermined outcome, in terms of her sloganising, in terms of her coming in and saying there is no more money or that this legislation is going through.

"That is not the way to deal with a negotiation and she has to remember that she is part of that negotiation, she is not just a facilitator."

Theresa Villiers this morning told the Conservative Party conference in Manchester that Northern Ireland risks falling back under direct rule from the UK Government unless it implements welfare reforms and balances its budget.

She warned parties taking a "hard line" against welfare reform that they could end up collapsing Stormont.

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers addresses the Conservative Party conference at Manchester Central.
Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers addresses the Conservative Party conference at Manchester Central.

"One only has to look round Europe to see the problems caused when an administration cannot live within its budget and the terribly harsh impact that can have on some of the most vulnerable in society," she said.

"Replaying that scenario in Northern Ireland would stretch political relationships well beyond breaking point.

"And there's now a real risk that those taking a hard line against welfare reform could end up running the devolved institutions into collapse as collateral damage.

"A return to direct rule would be a severe setback after everything that's been achieved over recent years and we are doing all we can to prevent it."

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