North's leaders await UK government statement on powersharing talks

North's leaders await UK government statement on powersharing talks

Political leaders in the North are awaiting a UK government statement that is set to influence whether crisis talks aimed at saving powersharing will proceed.

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers will outline to the House of Commons the Government’s intentions on the political furore sparked by an IRA-linked murder.

The Democratic Unionists and Ulster Unionists have indicated their presence in any round-table negotiations will depend on Ms Villiers taking definitive action against paramilitarism first.

However, Sinn Féin has insisted there can be no preconditions attached to the process.

DUP leader Peter Robinson, who stood aside as Stormont First Minister last week amid the controversy created by the killing of Kevin McGuigan, has not made public what his party has asked of British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Potential actions open to the British government include establishing new mechanisms to monitor paramilitary activity and provide assessments of the extent of IRA operations.

“The Secretary of State knows what we are looking for, the Prime Minister knows what we are looking for,” Mr Robinson said ahead of the statement to Parliament.

The mandatory coalition Executive in Belfast is teetering on the verge of collapse.

The UUP has quit the administration and the DUP has pulled four of its five ministers out.

Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness has said if full-scale talks fail, or do not proceed, then the next logical step is a snap election.

“I do think that as we enter into these discussions that it is very, very important that we do so on the basis of no preconditions,” he said.

The latest crisis to beset the faltering administration erupted after last month’s murder of former IRA member Mr McGuigan.

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

The disclosures about the IRA have heaped pressure on Sinn Féin to explain why the police assess that the supposedly defunct paramilitary organisation is still in existence.

Sinn Féin insists the IRA has gone away and has accused the two unionist parties of contriving a crisis for electoral gain.

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