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Robinson urges NIO: Respond to deal breach

Resource type: News

Irish News |


by William Graham

The political crisis at Stormont has deepened with First Minister Peter Robinson accusing Sinn Fein of defaulting on the St Andrews Agreement and suggesting that Secretary of State Shaun Woodward should “respond”.

Contact between the DUP and Sinn Fein is continuing in an attempt to resolve the problems which have prevented the executive from meeting since June but it is clear that the mood is not optimistic and a shadow hangs over the future of the government.

Questions are now starting to be asked about whether the British and Irish governments should consider stepping in to try to rescue the situation.

The extent of the difficulties were underlined when Mr Robinson, pictured, appeared before Westminster’s Northern Ireland Affairs Committee yesterday as it met in the Senate chamber at Parliament Buildings.

The session was chaired by Sir Patrick Cormack, who closely questioned Mr Robinson on the possible devolution of policing and justice powers and why the executive was not meeting.

Mr Robinson said he had felt that progress was being made until the start of last week when agreements reached on the details of a justice ministry had been clawed back.

Sir Patrick asked whether he could infer from this that Mr Robinson was now pessimistic.

Mr Robinson replied that the two issues which had caused him to be much more pessimistic were Sinn Fein’s retreat from an agreement on July 28 about policing and justice and also the party’s reaction to the homecoming parade “of our troops from Afghanistan and Iraq”.

Sinn Fein is planning a major protest against the troops’ march in Belfast this weekend.

Mr Robinson said it was hard for people to envisage how powers for policing and justice could be devolved when one of the parties in the assembly behaves in such a “reckless” way.

When Ulster Unionist Sylvia Hermon asked what the secretary of state’s reaction should be, Mr Robinson said he believed Mr Woodward would wish that the parties would resolve the difficulties themselves but the longer the deadlock continued the longer it appeared that Stormont was dysfunctional and the more likely he would be asked to intervene.

The DUP leader said the St Andrews Agreement was clear about the pledge of office and ministerial code. He said Sinn Fein’s refusal to allow the executive to meet could be defined as default and the secretary of state should “respond”.

Mr Robinson said there were two other avenues that he could take – going to the courts or to the Independent Monitoring Commission – but he said it would be better if the parties could resolve their difficulties themselves.


Sinn Fein last night accused Mr Robinson of making excuses for political stalemate.

He had criticised the party’s plans for a protest against Sunday’s homecoming parade by British soldiers, describing it as a “recipe for disaster” and damaging to efforts to restore the power-sharing executive.

Two other protests will also be staged by republican fringe groups Eirigi and the Republican Network for Unity, as troops who served in Afghanistan and Iraq parade through the city centre.

Mr Robinson said the Sinn Fein protest aimed to disrupt the activities of the army and to “intimidate and provoke”.

“Bringing large numbers of people into the centre of Belfast where undoubtedly there will be thousands of people coming to welcome home our troops is a recipe for disaster,” he said.

However, Sinn Fein MLA Alex Maskey said hundreds of families who had lost loved ones at the hands of the British army or because of collusion with loyalists still had many unanswered questions.

“There have been hundreds of thousands of people killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and undoubtedly many families there will be asking exactly the same questions,” he said.

“The attempt to glorify British crown forces in the centre of Belfast is an affront to victims across this island.

“Peter Robinson needs to stop grasping for excuses not to make progress.”

Last night loyalists in Portadown were putting up banners supporting the parade.

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