Belfast Telegraph

Stormont teetering on brink

By Brian Rowan

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams used the 'P' word on Wednesday - precarious. And Secretary of State Theresa Villiers used the 'G' word - grave. They were both talking about Stormont and the uncertain future of the political institutions.

There is now talk of a Plan B. After a long stand-off on welfare reform and wider cuts, politics is rapidly running out of road.

Adams was speaking in the Dail. "The current determination of the British Government and unionist parties to implement hugely destructive cuts to the fabric of society in the north represents one of the gravest threats yet to the institutions," he said.

At Westminster DUP MP Ian Paisley asked the Secretary of State if the Northern Ireland Office was "preparing for the worst-case scenario".

Ms Villiers replied: "I don't think we are at that point yet." But she described the situation as "grave".

"There is a threat to the continued effectiveness of the institutions and even a threat of potential collapse," she said.

This is why there is talk of a Plan B.

The Government's position is that Sinn Fein and the SDLP must deliver on the Stormont House Agreement. But there are disagreements about that agreement.

And, so, Stormont politics stays stuck in the mud with a deadline of September/October before interventions may have to be considered.

These could include the Government recalling welfare powers, or civil servants taking control of financial decisions.

Sinn Fein would oppose both. They are seen as "red lines".

Mr Paisley says the Secretary of State's use of the word grave "is another warning that the political institutions in Northern Ireland may not survive. In my view, Sinn Fein is in a corner of its own making."

He accused republicans of having "welched" on the Stormont House Agreement - and said they were now on a hook. It is a hook, he believes, Sinn Fein will find it difficult to escape from.

Republicans are pushing for another negotiation and a new deal. But unionists don't see any new money on offer.

Politics is in a Stormont jam.

  • Brian Rowan is a writer and broadcaster on security issues

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