SDLP To Meet Irish Premier Enda Kenny As Pressure Mounts To Adjourn Stormont

The SDLP is to meet the Irish premier as pressure mounts on the smaller parties in the Northern Ireland Executive to adjourn the Assembly as a means to avert the suspension or collapse of powersharing.

The Stormont institutions are teetering on the brink amid a major political crisis sparked by a murder linked to the IRA.

The Democratic Unionists have threatened to resign from the Executive - a move that would spark the collapse of powersharing - if the Assembly is not adjourned or suspended until intensive cross-party talks on the murder furore are completed.

The Assembly's business committee will meet this afternoon to vote on the DUP's adjournment proposal. If it is rejected, the DUP wants Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers to enact emergency legislation to suspend proceedings. Without adjournment or suspension, First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson has vowed to walk out by the end of the day.

Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny will meet SDLP representatives in Dublin later to discuss the adjournment option. With the DUP in favour and Sinn Fein opposed to the move, the stance of the SDLP, Ulster Unionists and Alliance will be crucial.

The UUP, which has already resigned from the Executive claiming trust in Sinn Fein has been destroyed, has said it will only vote for adjournment if the republican party, and in particular its president Gerry Adams, admits the IRA still exists.

UUP MP Tom Elliott said: "The calls for an adjournment under the present circumstances, and all the rest, is bluster - a sham.

"We will support an adjournment if Gerry Adams comes up to the mark. We will not turn a blind eye to recent events."

While adjournment or suspension would see business at the Assembly frozen for a period, the first option leaves control of resumption in the hands of local parties, rather than the Government.

The Executive cannot function without the DUP, the region's largest unionist party. However, if the party resigns its ministerial posts the institutions will not fall immediately, as the party will be given seven days to renominate ministers. If no renominations materialise then the powersharing Executive will collapse, prompting the prospect of snap elections or a lengthy spell of direct rule.

Mr Robinson wants all parties to focus on crisis talks aimed at dealing with the remnants of paramilitarism in Northern Ireland as well as issues left over from the peace process.

He issued his ultimatum on Wednesday after the arrest of three senior republicans, including Sinn Fein's northern chairman Bobby Storey, over the fatal shooting of former IRA man Kevin McGuigan.

The police have said current members of the IRA were involved in last month's shooting of Mr McGuigan in a suspected revenge attack for the murder of former IRA commander Gerard "Jock" Davison in Belfast three months earlier.

The revelations about the IRA have heaped pressure on Sinn Fein to explain why the supposedly defunct paramilitary organisation is still in existence.