Uncertainty continues to dog political talks aimed at saving power-sharing in Northern Ireland after a British government statement failed to prompt unionists to sign up to negotiations.
The Democratic Unionists and Ulster Unionists want to see action taken against paramilitarism before they enter into cross-party, round-table discussions to resolve the crisis created by an IRA-linked murder.
Both parties had hoped Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers would outline definitive steps to crack down on remaining terror structures in a statement to the British House of Commons.
Ms Villiers said “serious consideration” needs to be given to establishing a new body to monitor paramilitarism and the Government will “actively consider” new ways of tackling organised criminality.
Her remarks were not met with a commitment from either the DUP or UUP to enter negotiations.
DUP leader Peter Robinson considered Ms Villers’s comments a “holding statement”, insisting talks will be “delayed” until she provides further details, while UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said her words “don’t really move us forward very much”.
Sinn Féin has branded the situation “farcical” and said talks should begin immediately, without preconditions, warning that if they fail to proceed the only alternative is a snap election.
The mandatory coalition Executive in Belfast is on the verge of collapse. The UUP has quit the administration and the DUP has pulled four of its five ministers out.
The crisis follows last month’s murder of ex-IRA member Kevin McGuigan.
Police have said 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 regarding the status of the IRA. Sinn Féin insists the IRA has gone away and accuses the two unionist parties of contriving a crisis for electoral gain.
Addressing MPs in Westminster, Ms Villiers outlined the potential of establishing a mechanism such as the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC), which assessed the status of paramilitary structures during the peace process.
She insisted that no one wants to wind back the clock and return to direct rule from Westminster.
The Conservative MP told the Commons the two “brutal” murders had brought into “sharp focus” the problems around the continued existence of paramilitary organisations.
“They were never justified in the past, they are not justified now, and we all need to work together to find a way to bring to an end this continuing blight on Northern Ireland society,” she said.
Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy said: “If people are not going to be prepared to go into those talks the only other option is an election, so this needs to be called very, very quickly”. He referred to the situation as farcical.
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