Page last updated at 21:02 GMT, Thursday, 18 September 2008 22:02 UK

MLAs 'leaving dissident vacuum'

Sir Hugh Orde

Northern Ireland's chief constable has urged politicians to resolve their differences in order to marginalise dissident republicans.

Sir Hugh Orde said the failure to provide "political top cover" left a vacuum which dissidents were trying to exploit with attacks on police.

His comments follow the failure to meet of the Stormont cabinet on Thursday.

The scheduled meeting was blocked by Sinn Féin, who are frustrated at the failure to devolve justice powers.

The DUP wants more proof that the IRA's "army council" has disbanded for good, and last month First Minister Peter Robinson warned of "serious consequences" if the executive failed to meet on this day.

Instead, informal talks took place among the DUP, SDLP and UUP.

In a joint news conference, the UUP's Sir Reg Empey, Michael McGimpsey, and the SDLP's Margaret Ritchie said vital decisions on suicide and fuel poverty were being delayed by the executive not meeting.

'True partnership'

Sinn Féin again demanded proof that the executive would operate "on the basis of true partnership".

The party's deputy first minister, Martin McGuinness, said the appearance of Ms Ritchie alongside the two unionist leaders would raise questions among nationalists about the SDLP's commitment to power-sharing.

However, Mr Robinson said the failure to hold a cabinet meeting meant that vital government papers could not be signed off, putting under threat ministerial meetings between ministers from Belfast and Dublin.

"Each of us, if there is not an executive meeting taking place, I think will look to urgent procedures because we are not in the business of making people outside suffer," said the DUP leader.

"Others will have to answer for themselves.

"The executive should be meeting, that is what we are elected to do, that is what we are legally required to do."

Sir Reg and Ms Ritchie said government departments not run by Sinn Féin politicians would now seek to make progress on issues such as fuel poverty.


Sir Reg said people with worries about the economy were being let down.

"We're in a position of privilege, we're in the position of being given the responsibility to try and provide good government for this region.

"Given all the goodwill that was bestowed upon us last year, that is being squandered."

Ms Ritchie said she hoped to be able to take forward fuel poverty measures with other ministers.

"But this is a short-term issue because people are urgently wanting to know what we can do for them to keep them warm this winter and that is my urgent concern," she said.

"So I am happy to enter into discussions with the minister for finance and the minister for the economy and for health to see what we can do collectively."

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