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NIO staying silent on Stormont options

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers says she is committed to the devolved institutions

The secretary of state's office was last night refusing to spell out what options are available to the British government for dealing with the growing crisis at Stormont.

Ahead of DUP leader Peter Robinson's meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron today, the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) was sticking with the oft-repeated line that Theresa Villiers remains committed to the devolved institutions and the full implementation of the Stormont House Agreement.

Over recent days, the DUP has placed the onus for dealing with the fall-out from the Kevin McGuigan murder on Mrs Villiers and the British government. The party has said it would like to see Sinn Féin excluded, though it has yet to specify how exactly this should happen.

The DUP knows that an assembly motion to oust republicans is unlikely to get the necessary cross community backing, which is why responsibility for excluding Sinn Féin falls on the secretary of state.

While the NIO would not confirm how the process might work, it is understood Mrs Villiers can seek to exclude a party by direction.

However, the power that enables the British government to suspend Stormont was removed in the St Andrews Agreement in a bid to enhance stability. To instate that power would require emergency legislation at Westminster.

The secretary of state does, however, have power to dissolve the assembly and call an election.

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