‘Time not right’ to suspend NI political institutions, says Theresa Villiers

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers
Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers

The time is not right to suspend the political institutions in Northern Ireland, the Government said.

Unionists have pressed for measures to allow space for negotiations which are due to begin between the five parties in Belfast later.

The talks will focus on paramilitary activity and welfare reform, but without an agreement the future of the power-sharing administration is in jeopardy, Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers added.

She said: “The Government does not feel that the time would be right to suspend the institutions at this stage and under these circumstances.

“If the circumstances were to change in the future, we would of course need to look at all our options.”

The ministerial Executive at Stormont has been under threat of collapse since police said IRA members were involved in the murder of Kevin McGuigan in east Belfast last month.

Police believe Mr McGuigan was killed by individual members of the Provisional IRA in revenge for the death of prominent republican Gerard “Jock” Davison in May.

Although the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Chief Constable George Hamilton has insisted the IRA is not back on a war footing, disclosure that the organisation still exists has rocked the political establishment.

The Northern Ireland Secretary said the police assessment of the IRA may change over time.

“There was never a justification for politically motivated violence in Northern Ireland, from whichever side of the community it came.

“During the Troubles, paramilitary organisations inflicted huge suffering on thousands of ordinary people.

“These organisations should never have existed in the first place, they should not exist today and they should disband.”

On Monday, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Northern Ireland’s largest party, said there would be no further routine meetings of the ministerial Executive until the latest crisis was resolved.

Ms Villiers told the House of Commons: “We strongly support the power-sharing devolved institutions established under the Belfast Agreement.

“The future of these institutions is in jeopardy if the two very serious matters I have outlined here today are not resolved.

“I do not under-estimate the challenges we face, but I believe that a way through can be found and that is what we will be striving to achieve as we embark on this new talks process with urgency, focus and determination.”

If the latest round of crunch talks, expected to last for four to six weeks, are unsuccessful, First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson has warned he would pull his ministers out.

The Ulster Unionist Party withdrew its only Executive minister Danny Kennedy in August, claiming it could no longer trust republicans.

Ms Villiers will be joined at Stormont House by Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said: “We have been clear in our view that a suspension of the Assembly now for short period could not only focus minds on the issues at hand, but allow in the long-run to restore viable devolution.

“The Secretary of State may not believe the current circumstances merit this, but even she recognises that it remains an option left open.”