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North 'point of no return' looming


Charlie Flanagan

Charlie Flanagan

Charlie Flanagan

Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan has called on the leaders of the Northern parties to show the political will and real leadership which has "sadly been lacking".

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Mr Flanagan, who will co-chair fresh talks tomorrow in Belfast in order to avoid a total collapse of the Stormont Assembly, said the power-sharing government was "on life support" and days away from plunging the North into unwanted elections.

"While we will encourage the parties in Northern Ireland, if the institutions are to be restored then the parties are going to have to work together. And this will require the political will and real leadership which has sadly been lacking from time to time," he said.

"We are not yet at the point of no return but it is looming. It is time for reflection. Having had the turbulence and the brinkmanship of the past week, it is time for the parties to seriously reflect on the consequences of what happened. There has been no effective administration, and the talks process stalled."

Mr Flanagan said it was essential that the reflection the party leaders should engage in should involve initiatives to get people around the table on Monday.

"Theresa Villiers and myself will initiate talks, at bilateral and trilateral level, with a view towards bringing all the parties around the table," he added.

He said that all of the five parties had confirmed to him that they wanted the process to work. These talks need to be given a chance. The need for engagement has been accepted by all leaders.

The agenda for the talks tomorrow is clear, he said. "It is threefold. Firstly, welfare reform and budget issues. Secondly, to address the breakdown of confidence in recent weeks, and, thirdly, to address the unfinished business in the Stormont House Agreement with references to the past," he said.

The Laois Fine Gael TD said nobody was served by a collapse of the institutions and people not talking. He also said that party leaders had made it clear they didn't want elections at this stage.

"There have been various stages of fragility along the way and now matters are very fragile, and that is why the two governments have acted to convene the meetings," he added.

Democratic Unionist ministers who quit Northern Ireland's power-sharing government are set to be renominated next week - only to resign again immediately, in a move designed to keep the posts away from nationalists and republicans, party leader Peter Robinson has said.

Under the rules of Stormont's Executive, if a minister is not renominated within seven days, the position is reallocated to another party.

Mr Robinson said he aimed to ensure the administration was not able to function properly until the crisis linked to the murder of Kevin McGuigan was resolved.

The DUP leader, who himself stood aside as first minister on Thursday, outlined the potential political choreography as British Prime Minister David Cameron and Taoiseach Enda Kenny urged Northern Ireland's politicians to "go the extra mile" to save the institutions.

Mr Cameron said his government stood ready to do what it could to resolve the meltdown sparked by the PSNI's assessment that the provisional IRA still exists. Mr Cameron described the crisis as an "extremely worrying situation".

He said: "We stand ready to help, including standing ready to help with getting rid of the paramilitary organisations.

"I would appeal to the politicians to go the extra mile, the extra 10 miles if they have to."

Sunday Independent