DUP leader Peter Robinson signed a post-dated letter of resignation as First Minister to secure his party’s support for local policing and justice in the north of Ireland, it has emerged.
The letter was introduced to secure the support of the 14 Assembly members who initially rejected the deal on offer at Hillsborough Castle last week.
The letter was given to his party executive to activate if at any point they decide that Sinn Fein had not delivered, enabling the DUP executive - more than 100 people - to pull down the Stormont administration. It has been suggested that the Assembly could be collapsed if there is no agreement on a march by the Protestant Orange Order along Portadown’s nationalist Garvaghy Road this year.
Effectively the mechanism means that Mr Robinson can be removed as First Minister, even if the DUP’s Assembly members still want to retain their positions in the Six-County administration.
It was reported that the letter has been handed to Lord Morrow, the DUP chairman and one of its strongest sceptics of transferring policing and justice powers from Westminster to the Six-County Assembly at Stormont.
In 2001, the then First Minister, Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble, used a similar device in his demands for the Provisional IRA to disarm.
The resignation letter is one of two so-called “additional safeguards” to ensure Sinn Fein do not secure devolved policing and justice in April but then refuse to allow the Parades Commission’s abolition.
A DUP member described the cross-community Assembly vote on devolving policing and justice on March 9 as the “belt” and the letter as the “braces” of the party’s double mechanism for ensuring Sinn Fein’s compliance with what the parties have agreed.
The post-dated resignation letter gave the party’s hardliners confidence that it could, through the collapse of Stormont, enforce the return to Westminster of all devolved powers including policing and justice, if their demands are not met.
Ironically, Robinson last week accused Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams of being hostage to Sinn Fein hardliners when Mr Adams said he could not envisage a situation where a parade could go ahead on the Garvaghy Road in Portadown without the consent of nationalist residents.
The annual summer standoff over the Orange Order march in Portadown led to major and widespread violence in the mid to late nineties, but tension has waned in recent years since the Parades Commission ruled against the contentious parade route.
Mr Adams said that if there was a parade against the wishes of the residents he would be “sitting with them in the middle of the road”.
Mr Robinson accused Mr Adams of moving away from what was agreed at Hillsborough Castle following do-or-die negotiations.
He said the comments were “crass, irresponsible and extremely unhelpful” and “breach both the spirit and the letter” of the principles set out in the Hillsborough Agreement.
“Gerry Adams is looking over his shoulders at dissidents and the most extreme elements in his own ranks,” he said.
“This is not a time for political retreat; it is a time for leadership and a time for progress.”
It was revealed that Presbyterian minister the Rev Mervyn Gibson and former IRA prisoner Sean ‘Spike’ Murray are acting as advisers to the parades working group, set up last week with the task of finding a new solution to the parades issue by the end of the month.
Yesterday Martin McGuinness said it was “not too much to ask” that Orangemen consider never again applying to parade along the Garvaghy Road in light of the serious rioting which resulted during the 1990s.
The Deputy First Minister said the Orange Order should “make a gesture” to residents, adding: “I do not think it is too much to ask given the trouble we have seen on the Garvaghy Road.”
Brendan MacCionnaith, spokesperson for the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition, pointed out that Orangemen could take the same route back from Drumcree church as the one they take to get there in the annual parade in Portadown.
He said that if there was going to be dialogue “then all the options had to be on the table”.
“The right to freedom of assembly does not equate to an absolute right to march,” he said.