Page last updated at 16:18 GMT, Monday, 8 March 2010

Shaun Woodward 'guilty of blackmail' - Ulster Unionists

Shaun Woodward
Shaun Woodward said the vote is the most important the Stormont assembly has ever had

The Ulster Unionists have accused the Secretary of State of "political and emotional blackmail" ahead of Tuesday's vote on the transfer of justice powers.

On Monday, Shaun Woodward said the vote would be the most important in Northern Ireland history.

He also urged the Ulster Unionists to vote in favour of devolution.

UUP deputy leader Danny Kennedy said Mr Woodward had "disgracefully" linked the vote to the anniversary of the murder of Constable Stephen Carroll.

The vote takes place exactly a year after the police officer was murdered by the Continuity IRA in Craigavon.

Mr Woodward said transferring justice powers on Tuesday would send an important message to those responsible for his death and dissident republicans in general.

But Mr Kennedy said the Secretary of State was guilty of "political and emotional blackmail" and called on him to consider his position.

The UUP has been refusing to endorse the Hillsborough Agreement, insisting that matters such as education, parading and "the dysfunctional nature of the current Executive" must be addressed.

"You wouldn't buy a machine that already malfunctioned and overload it then with more than it could cope with," UUP MLA David McNarry said.

"They have enough votes, Sinn Fein and the DUP to get us through this and this is all just hype, it's just fabrication.

"We're doing what we've always done, we're responsible, and actually it was us who put devolution on the map."

Congressmen

In a statement at the weekend, two US congressional groups urged the UUP to "take a risk for peace".

They also called on Conservative Party leader David Cameron to use his influence with the party.

Ulster Unionists have said their final decision will be made on Monday evening.

The latest appeal follows a weekend of telephone diplomacy in which US Secretary Hillary Clinton phoned Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey in an effort to move the situation forward.

They talked for about 15 minutes. Afterwards Ulster Unionist sources said Mrs Clinton did not try to strong-arm them into changing their position.

Hillary Clinton on the telephone in 2008
Hillary Clinton has been calling Northern Ireland politicians

Mrs Clinton also spent 15 minutes talking to Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness from Sinn Fein.

The US statement issued by the Friends of Ireland in the United States House of Representatives and the Ad Hoc Committee on Irish Affairs expressed "deep disappointment" at the Ulster Unionist stance.

The five congressmen who signed it - Richard E Neal, Peter King, Joseph Crowley, Chris Smith and Tim Murphy - said this was a "crucial and defining moment in the peace process".

Meanwhile, an opinion poll commissioned by the Northern Ireland Executive has indicated that the majority of people in Northern Ireland favour devolving justice powers.

It also suggests that 70% of unionists favour Northern Ireland politicians being in charge of policing issues, compared to 83% of nationalists.



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