The close-knit republican community of the Short Strand has been shocked by the apparent revenge killing on Wednesday night of Kevin McGuigan, the chief suspect in the murder earlier this year of former PIRA commander Jock Davison.
His wife Dolores witnessed the attack outside their home, carried out by two masked men, who fled the scene on foot.
Mr McGuigan had been questioned by the PSNI as a potential witness in the murder of Jock Davison, once a close friend of his and a former comrade in the Provisional IRA.
A former republican prisoner, Mr McGuigan spent time in prison for capturing a British soldier in 1986. He split from the Provisionals several years ago in a row over his alleged involvement in ‘anti-social’ and criminal activity, which led to him being at the receiving end of an IRA punishment shooting.
There were allegations that he then became involved with criminal families from south and east Belfast -- people who have long been opposed by Davison. But it was McGuigan’s reported grudge against the IRA leader which made him the chief suspect in his murder three months ago.
DUP leader Peter Robinson has warned that if the Provisional IRA are found to be behind the killing of McGuigan, Sinn Fein will be expelled from the executive.
The political process in the North is already under intense pressure over the collapse of an agreement negotiated before Christmas for budget cuts and other reforms.
Robinson warned of “repercussions” for Sinn Fein if the Provisional IRA was involved.
“Legislation sets out the steps that should be taken but if any organisation has gone back on its ceasefire then very clearly there is no place for their representatives to be in the Executive of Northern Ireland and they should be expelled from it,” he said.
A previously unknown group describing themselves as ‘Action Against Drugs’ said last week that it would take revenge against anyone involved in Davison’s murder. The group said it includes former members of the Provisional IRA, and that it was “non-political” in nature.
However, Sinn Fein South Belfast assembly member Alex Maskey said he has “no concerns about any IRA involvement in this whatsoever”. He described public speculation about the killing as “unhelpful and unwelcome”.
SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell, who knows the family, said they “are in grief this morning, because somebody took it on themselves to kill”.
“Many of these organisations have wound down and effectively gone out of existence, the difficulty you have though is the people involved haven’t gone out of existence,” he said.
On her Facebook page yesterday, one of the dead man’s daughters posted a message to Sinn Fein saying even the dogs in the street know the “scum IRA” murdered her father, adding that he was “a good man and a loyal republican... there is no man could fill his boots”.
The cold-blooded killing has sent shockwaves through the Short Strand and the broader republican community. Amid fears of an escalation of violence, there were calls for calm.
While there was a mixed response from Sinn Fein supporters to the killing, party leadership figures issued strong condemnations. Sinn Fein councillor Niall O Donnghaile described the murder as “horrific”.
“Any kind of armed actions and armed groups are very, very firmly rejected by the community in Short Strand,” he added. “People don’t want them near them.”
Martin McGuinness said there was no justification for the murder. “No one has the right to take the law into their own hands,” he said.
But friends of Davison said it was inevitable that his former comrades would respond to his murder, as a matter of self-defence. The main question now being asked is whether such a policy can operate alongside the Stormont process.