N.Ireland leaders begin talks to avoid govt collapse

14th September 2015, Comments 0 comments

Crisis talks aimed at saving Northern Ireland's power-sharing government from collapse began Monday after a row over alleged Irish Republican Army (IRA) activity caused a mass walkout of unionist ministers.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, of republican party Sinn Fein, warned there must be "no preconditions" to negotiations after rival party leaders held one-to-one meetings with Britain's Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers.

The British province's devolved administration was thrown into disarray after First Minister Peter Robinson, leader of the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), stepped down Thursday.

The row centres on allegations that IRA members were involved in the killing of Kevin McGuigan, a former IRA militant.

The claims have revived fears that the paramilitary group is still operating in secret.

McGuinness said if talks fail, the next logical step will be a snap election.

The DUP last week pulled four of its five ministers out of the administration while the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) -- the other main pro-British party -- has also quit the coalition government.

Speaking after his meeting with Villiers, UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said negotiations could only proceed if Sinn Fein stopped denying the existence of the IRA.

The issue would "kill or cure" power-sharing in Northern Ireland, he warned.

Sinn Fein has said the IRA has "gone away", despite a police assessment that some of its structures are still in place and some former members still involved in criminal activity.

The DUP for its part has not yet committed to joining the negotiations.

© 2015 AFP

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