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UUP leader Mike Nesbitt's Stormont exit strategy meets opposition

‘PRINCIPLE’: UUP leader Mike Nesbitt has recommended his party withdraws from the executive and forms an opposition Picture: Mal McCann

The DUP last night stopped short of saying they would stay within the Executive after the Ulster Unionists pulled out of government over revelations about the continued existence of the IRA.

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt emerged from yesterday's meeting of the party's two MPs, 13 MLAs and MEP Jim Nicholson to recommend leaving the power-sharing executive.

The Strangford MLA said the exit strategy was based on a point of principle over the involvement of IRA members in the August 12 murder of Kevin McGuigan in Belfast's Short Strand.

He said his party remained committed to devolution and would form an opposition in the assembly.

If the party's executive backs the leader's plan on Saturday then Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy will resign early next week in a move that is expected to put pressure on the DUP to follow suit.

Mr Kennedy's seat at the executive table will most likely be filled under the D'Hondt procedure by a DUP MLA.

Last night, the DUP, who will today meet the secretary of state, was playing down the implications of the Ulster Unionists' exit, preferring instead to focus its ire on Sinn Féin.

North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds, who is deputising for Peter Robinson while the leader is on holiday, said those who breached their commitments to exclusively democratic and peaceful methods should be "punished".

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His comments suggest the DUP plans to place the initial onus for excluding republicans from government on Theresa Villiers or even David Cameron, whom they hope to meet in the coming days.

"It is republicans who are responsible for the current situation and it is on republicans that the pressure should be maintained," Mr Dodds said.

"If anyone should be excluded from government in Northern Ireland for wrong doing it is Sinn Féin not unionists."

The DUP deputy leader noted how the Ulster Unionists were part of the executive before IRA decommissioning and referred to their record in government as "one of crisis and collapse".

Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly said the UUP's decision to leave the executive "reeked of opportunism and rank hypocrisy".

"This is the same party and same leader which walked out of talks last year to stand shoulder to shoulder with the representatives of loyalist paramilitary groups which are actively involved in drug dealing, extortion and murder," the North Belfast MLA said.

"Instead of the amateur dramatics so loved by its leader the UUP would be better working with all the parties on the real issues of ending Tory austerity and cuts and protecting the most vulnerable in society."

SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell said the Ulster Unionists’ decision was "premature" and based on incomplete police investigations on both sides of the border.

"The SDLP shares the frustrations and concerns of the Ulster Unionists but we believe their decision does not help to repair the significant damage caused by the revelation of the existence and continued activity of PIRA," he said.

Alliance's Stephen Farry said the UUP's exit would destabilise the political process when it needed steadied.

"The party currently sits on the Camp Twaddell committee alongside representatives of loyalist paramilitaries, as well as taking part in the Unionist Forum and announcing a graduated response alongside those same representatives," he said.

"They also cannot credibly argue they did not know the Provisional IRA did not cease to exist, showing today’s decision is political opportunism rather than anything done out of principle."

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin urged Taoiseach Enda Kenny to meet the British prime minister, while in the US, Senator Gary Hart called on the executive parties to "continue to engage in dialogue to sustain and improve the functioning of Northern Ireland’s government".

Meanwhile, a Co Derry Sinn Féin councillor and former republican prisoner said the logic of the UUP decision meant they should also remove themselves from councils.

"Throughout the country there are ex (IRA) volunteers sitting on councils," Sean McGlinchey said.

"Pull your people out of every institution, not just the assembly but the super councils as well.

"In my opinion they are playing politics with the DUP with the assembly elections next year."

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