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Stormont crisis: Ulster Unionist Party ruling executive votes unanimously to enter talks after Theresa Villiers commissions assessment of Northern Ireland paramilitaries

Ulster Unionist Party's ruling executive has unanimously endorsed their party leader Mike Nesbitt's recommendation to enter talks on Monday.

The move follows the Secretary of State's statement on Friday that an independent assessment of paramilitaries in Northern Ireland has been commissioned by the Government.

The three person panel, appointed by Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers, will examine findings from the security agencies such as MI5 and police on the structure, role and purpose of proscribed organisations.

It will report back next month.

Mr Nesbitt said: "We made clear when we met the Secretary of State on Wednesday that we needed something to present to our Party Executive this afternoon and what we wanted was paramilitarism and organised crime at the top of the agenda and that's where it now is.

"We will enter the talks on Monday seeking clarification on whether there is the collective political will to grasp this one off opportunity to rid Northern Ireland, and indeed the whole island, of the scourge of organised crime. These people are terrorising communities, devastating parts of the economy and bringing the country into disrepute with potential inward investors.

"Unlike others, we took a firm stand early on and have been unwavering in our determination that no-one can be allowed to turn a blind eye to these activities which are so poisonous to the peace and political processes."

The Secretary of State's announcement follows the murder of a man by Provisional IRA members which has rocked the power-sharing political establishment at Stormont and was made as police officers investigating violent dissident republican activity discovered Semtex explosive, bomb detonators and almost 200 rounds of ammunition in West Belfast.

Ms Villiers said: "I am announcing today that the Government has commissioned a factual assessment from the UK security agencies and the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) on the structure, role and purpose of paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland.

"This assessment will be independently reviewed and checked by three individuals who I will appoint. Their names will be announced early next week.

"This assessment will be published by mid-October and will be available to inform the parties' discussions and conclusions in the cross-party talks."

The mandatory coalition Executive in Belfast is teetering on the verge of collapse, with all but one of its unionist ministers having walked out over the shooting of former IRA member Kevin McGuigan by current members of the Provisionals.

Ms Villiers said she intended to establish dedicated funding to increase the capability of agencies working to tackle criminality and organised crime associated with paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland.

She said: "It will support agencies to enhance specialist capabilities such as forensic accounting to strengthen their capacity to seize criminal assets."

Talks with the administrations in Belfast and Dublin on how best to tackle cross-border crime such as fuel laundering and smuggling will also be established.

Cross-party discussions to resolve a crisis sparked by the murder of Mr McGuigan were due to begin on Monday but u nionists had demanded UK Government action on paramilitaries before they begin.

Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Peter Robinson, who has temporarily stepped aside as First Minister, said he was "content" key issues around paramilitary criminality were being addressed and said the DUP would be at the negotiating table next week.

He said: "We will be participating in the talks on Monday.

"I am not in the business of wrecking devolution. I want to see good, effective government in Northern Ireland. Whilst others may be focused on process, this party is focused on the right outcome."

Police said current members of the IRA were involved in shooting the 53-year-old father of nine last month, in a suspected revenge attack for the murder of former IRA commander Gerard "Jock" Davison in Belfast three months earlier.

That assessment has shone the spotlight on Sinn Fein and exerted pressure on the republican party to explain why security chiefs assess that the supposedly defunct paramilitary organisation is still in existence.

Mr Robinson added: "We need to know exactly whether they are collecting intelligence, whether there is any weaponry being brought in, whether there is a recruiting going on (and) what activities are they involved in."

Stormont Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said he was "pleased" unionist leaders would be present at next week's talks.

Politicians have a "burning duty" to find a resolution, he said.

"We will work with other parties to tackle the issue of armed groups, which want to drag us back to the past including active unionist paramilitaries and armed republican dissidents and organised criminals who are a blight on the community."

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