Northern Ireland has been plunged into its worst crisis in nearly a decade after the first minister, Peter Robinson, resigned from his post in the wake of the alleged involvement of the IRA in a Belfast killing.There's always something that will threaten the ability of that dysfunctional state to have a working government. Way to go, Britain.
In a dramatic move that threatens to collapse the Northern Ireland assembly for the first time since 2007, Robinson warned that the continued existence of IRA structures had “pushed devolution to the brink”.
But the first minister, who has faced intense pressure after the smaller Ulster Unionist party (UUP) pulled out its sole minister from the executive, stepped back from pushing power sharing and devolution over the brink.
Robinson appointed the finance minister, Arlene Foster, as acting first minister – a move aimed at keeping devolution going for a few more weeks – after failing to persuade David Cameron to suspend the Stormont assembly in Belfast. He emphasised that he had not “technically resigned”. Downing Street said the prime minister was “gravely concerned” by the events in Northern Ireland.
The move, which also saw all the Democratic Unionist party ministers resign from the power-sharing executive, leaves a seven-day window for the British and Irish governments to try to patch together a deal between the DUP and Sinn Féin. Robinson has seven days to renominate his ministers. Elections to the assembly would be triggered if Robinson fails to nominate a new team.
The DUP leader wanted Cameron to take on powers that would allow him to suspend devolution for a short time in an echo of the repeated suspensions which eventually led to the resignation of Lord Trimble as first minister in 2002. The suspensions, which were ordered during a a lengthy row over the decommissioning of IRA weapons, undermined Trimble’s position and paved the way for the DUP, then the more hardline unionist party, to displace the Ulster Unionists as Northern Ireland’s largest party.
In a reversal of roles, the much diminished UUP, which governed Northern Ireland from its creation in the 1920s until the imposition of direct rule from London at the height of the Troubles in 1972, is now putting pressure on the DUP over power sharing with Sinn Féin.
Downing Street and the Northern Ireland secretary, Theresa Villiers, indicated that Westminster would resist pressure from Robinson, saying on Thursday night that she would not suspend the devolved institutions. Villiers acknowledged that the DUP resignations meant the functioning of the executive would become much more difficult. “It is a sign of a complete breakdown in working relationships within the executive,” she said.
Thursday, September 10, 2015
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