Northern executive hangs in balance

The future of the North’s powersharing executive hangs in the balance after unionists resigned last night and left a small window in which to heal relations between all sides.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny called on the leaders of the political parties in the North to use their influence to ensure that the North’s institutions do not collapse.

Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan said time was “running out” after efforts to adjourn the executive failed and DUP ministers quit their positions.

The crisis of confidence was caused by the murder of Belfast IRA commander Gerard Jock Davison and the retaliatory paramilitary-style killing of Brian McGuigan.

DUP ministers resigned en masse yesterday, leaving the North’s finance minister Arlene Foster to replace Peter Robinson as caretaker. She will remain in the position for a week, which will prevent the executive from collapsing and allow some breathing space to work on the crisis.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and British prime minister David Cameron remained in negotiations behind closed doors yesterday, after a failed attempt to have the executive adjourned. Mr Kenny said if the adjournment failed it could “trigger” early elections in the North.

There is just under a week before the triggering of what is known as the D’Hondt mechanism, under the Good Friday Agreement. This would lead to the collapse of the executive and assembly and the closure of offices.

Any return to devolved government might then be a remote possibility that could only occur after fresh elections, with Northern Ireland being ruled directly from Westminster.

Reacting to the DUP’s move, Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan said: “I don’t believe the best interest of the people is served by walkouts and resignations. I greatly regret the decision of the DUP to resign the majority of their ministerial seats and that of Peter Robinson to step aside as first minister.”

He said the Taoiseach and Tánaiste, had been working with the secretary of state and with the Northern Ireland parties “to resolve the critical issues,” despite Mr Kenny’s presence at the Fine Gael party meeting in Co Limerick last night.

“Following today’s serious developments, the power-sharing institutions are on the edge of the precipice,” Mr Flanagan said. He said time was running out.

Speaking at his party’s think-in in Adare, Limerick, the Taoiseach said that people both North and South had voted overwhelmingly in favour of the Good Friday Agreement.

“This is a very serious situation which faces Northern Ireland. The opportunity and the timescale in which to make progress here is very limited now.”

The PSNI last night released senior republican Bobby Storey, whose arrest over the McGuigan murder led to the latest crisis.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said: “The unconditional release of Bobby Storey underlines the contrived nature of the current crisis in the political institutions in the North.”

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