Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness has warned that any attempt to bring the Provisional IRA back into the political equation “is a big mistake”.
Mr McGuinness was responding to some unionist calls for all IRA structures to be dismantled as a precondition for the transfer of policing and justice powers to the Six-County Executive.
The deputy First Minister and Sinn Féin chief negotiator also attacked republican traditionalists, declaring that they were ‘more divisive’ than the DUP’s Ian Paisley.
First Minister Paisley, who formally opened the Battle of the Boyne site with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern this week, said again this week that political progress in the North could hinge on the winding up of the Provisional IRA’s Army Council.
However, Mr McGuinness was dismissive of such calls.
“Sometimes I am amused at the efforts that are being made by people to drag the IRA of whatever description back into the equation. I think it’s pretty pathetic to tell you the truth,” he said.
“The IRA have left the stage, they are totally and utterly out of the equation.
“Any attempt to drag them back on to the stage is a big mistake.”
Asked about the Army Council, Mr McGuinness said he did not even know if it still existed.
“I don’t believe that the DUP would have come into government with Sinn Féin on May 8th last year if they thought that the IRA Army Council represented a threat to the institutions.”
Mr McGuinness said his focus was on government in the North.
“I haven’t had any cause whatsoever to be in touch with the IRA about anything in the course of the recent while.”
Mr McGuinness said the past year of working with Ian Paisley had been “remarkable” and attacked a recent republican protest against him.
Referring to Mr Paisley’s recent visit to Cork, he noted how he was picketed by members of Republican Sinn Féin, which broke away from (Provisional) Sinn Féin in 1986.
“Specifically talking of what Ian Paisley has done over the course of the last year, who is doing more to end division on this island, Ian Paisley or the so-called Republican Sinn Féin protesters? I say give me Ian Paisley any time.”
A spokesperson for Republican Sinn Féin said that McGuinness’s comments were unsurprising as Sinn Féin had now adopted a unionist position.
“Republican Sinn Féin has sought to address the root cause of conflict in Ireland, namely the cancerous British presence,” said RSF spokesman Richard Walsh.
“However the removal of the British presence was precluded from the negotiations on the [1998 Good Friday] Agreement -- a document which his party has signed up to.
“The Provos have tried to silence any opposition to the Stormont sell-out of 1998. On the 22nd April, members of Republican Sinn Féin were refused entry to what was allegedly a public meeting in Silverbridge, County Armagh.
“They had gone there to confront Provo leaders, who were seeking to promote the Stormont Agreement on its tenth anniversary, and the first anniversary of the resurrection of the Stormont Assembly. But they did not wish for people to hear the opposing view -- let alone in the heart of South Armagh.
“Martin McGuinness says that he will entertain Ian Paisley over Republicans any day. This is hardly surprising given the fact that both he and his party have now adopted the Unionist position.
“But we in Republican Sinn Féin are committed to the ending of English rule in Ireland and the emancipation of the Irish people.”