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Party talks fail to start, now talk of an election

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Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy

Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy

Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy[/caption]

By Anthony Neeson

All-party talks to save the Stormont institutions – which were due to begin this week – have yet to get underway after unionists laid down fresh preconditions.

On Tuesday in the House of Commons the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers said reviving a body to monitor paramilitary activity may be one option facing the British government to bring unionists to the table.

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However, Peter Robinson called her words “a holding statement.”

Last week, Robinson and most of his DUP ministers resigned from the Northern Ireland Executive, which is in effect the cabinet for the North’s power-sharing government, this after Sinn Féin’s northern chair Bobby Storey was arrested and questioned in connection with the murder of former IRA man Kevin McGuigan in Belfast on August 12.

Mr. Storey was released unconditionally after 30 hours of questioning and says he is to sue the Chief Constable for his arrest.

Announcing the ministerial resignations, Robinson also said that he would stand aside as First Minister with Fermanagh MLA Arlene Foster deputizing for him.

Staying in the Executive she described herself as a “gatekeeper” adding that she was there “to make sure that Sinn Féin and the SDLP ministers don’t take actions that will damage Northern Ireland and principally, let’s be honest, that damage the unionist community.”

The DUP resignations came after the British government refused to suspend Stormont.

The Ulster Unionist Party’s single minister, Danny Kennedy, has also left the government.

The political crisis began last month when police said that they believed that the IRA was involved in the murder of Mr. McGuigan, However, Sinn Féin have denied this and have said that the IRA no longer exist.

Mr. McGuigan is believed to have been shot dead in retaliation for the murder of former leading IRA man Gerard “Jock” Davison who was shot in Belfast back in May.

Unionists are calling for a clarification on the IRA’s status after the PSNI’s assessment; however, with Sinn Féin sticking to its position that there is no IRA, there is very little room for manoeuver between the parties with trust at an all-time low.

This week’s talks were meant to bring the parties back from the brink but to date the parties have not met face-to-face.

Ms. Villiers’ statement on Tuesday about monitoring paramilitaries will not have gone far enough to bring unionists into the fold.

For its part, Sinn Féin have said that if the talks don’t take place, or if they do and no resolution is found, then elections should be called.

On Monday, Sinn Féin MLA Conor Murphy said there should be no delays or preconditions in beginning all-party talks.

"These talks should begin immediately,” he said.

"We are approaching these talks to achieve a resolution and that should be the goal of all political parties. If a resolution cannot be found then the next step will be to go to the polls and call a fresh election."