David Cameron has been forced to deny that there is a political crisis at Stormont.
As the Tory faithful gather in Manchester, David Cameron has been forced to deny that there is a political crisis at Stormont.
His comments follow a warning by the senior Sinn Fein MLA that power sharing in Northern Ireland is “in crisis”.
The comments came following a series of spats between the first and deputy first minister over parades and the Maze Prison peace centre.
Last month, the DUP angered republicans by withdrawing support for the proposed Peace Centre on the sight of the former Maze Prison. In a letter to party colleagues, its leader and first minister Peter Robinson explained that he was retracting support for the centre as a result of “the behaviour of Sinn Féin”, claiming that “unionists do not believe Sinn Féin is committed to creating and maintaining this kind of genuinely neutral shared space at the Maze”.
Noting contentious issues that have arisen recently, such as restrictions on the flying of the Union flag from Belfast City Hall in December, the naming of a play park after a deceased IRA member and rising tensions over loyal order parades, the first minister continued:
“For the centre to be successful in promoting peace and reconciliation, there must be a broad consensus about how it will operate.
“We have consulted widely and it is clear that the necessary wide-ranging consensus does not exist at present. It is my view that it would be wrong to proceed in the absence of a much broader consensus.”
Robinson went even further in his attacks on republicans. Responding to accusation by TUV leader, Jim Allister last week of performing a u-turn on the Maze centre, the First Minister said that Mr Allister, “chides me for doing business with republicans, but then secretly and outside of the House, the member, as the executor of a will, is selling land to republicans in Co Fermanagh to benefit his own family”.
The tit for tat exchanges have led the Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly to declare in no uncertain terms that Stormont is now “in crisis”. He continued:
“We are in partnership government. That hasn’t been manifested, especially in the office of the first minister and deputy first minister (OFMDFM), and in the relationship between the first and deputy first ministers.
“The government works on the basis of power sharing, that has to be a leadership of power sharing, everything in that office has to be by consensus.”
Whilst the DUP MP and MLA Gregory Campbell has in turn accused Sinn Fein of talking up a crisis, reports nonetheless suggest that the spat is having a direct bearing on the day-to-day functioning of the power sharing executive.
Speaking to BBC Northern Ireland however, the prime minister has denied the premise that there is now a crisis at Stormont. He explained:
“It is very difficult to make these devolved institutions work when you have parties that have been so opposed to each other in the past working together.
“I frankly think that the first minister and deputy first minister work hard at their relationship and they are doing the right thing by governing together.”
He did, however, talk of there being “a lot of difficulties to overcome”.
During his interview, Cameron was forced also to deny accusations by shadow Northern Ireland secretary Vernon Coaker that the secretary of state Theresa Villiers had not properly engaged with the talks led by the US diplomat, Richard Hass, aimed at reaching agreement between the parties on flags, parading and the legacy of the past.
Asked by the BBC if he would personally intervene if the talks fail to meet their Christmas deadline, Cameron responded:
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“Let’s let him do his work. Let us not assume these things are going to fail. Let us hope for success.
“I will always try and do what I can to bring politicians in Northern Ireland together so that Northern Ireland can be a success story. Whatever that takes.
“I think Richard Haass is doing a good job, let’s let him get on with it.”