The Ulster Unionist Party is set to withdraw its only Minister from the Stormont Executive on Saturday after party leader Mike Nesbitt described the current power-sharing agreement as “threadbare”.
The move follows allegations of an unsanctioned involvement by Provisional IRA members in the killing of Kevin McGuigan, the chief suspect in the recent murder of former IRA commander Jock Davison.
Nesbitt is to recommend to his party executive that the party should withdraw its single Executive member, Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy, and form an opposition to the current five-party coalition. He also attacked their former government partners in the DUP, who he said were “incapable of delivering for all the people of Northern Ireland”.
He said: “The UUP stretched itself almost to breaking point to bring forward the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
“The Ulster Unionist Party remains wedded to our 1998 vision of a fully peacefully and prosperous society for all our people, including nationalists, republicans and unionists.”
Claims of PIRA involvement in the killing of Kevin McGuigan, allegedly as a reprisal for his role in Davison’s murder, have continued despite PSNI chief George Hamilton stating last weekend that the killing had not been sanctioned by the Provisional IRA.
Hamilton said that the PIRA was not engaged in “terrorism”, and that its primary focus was on promoting a peaceful political agenda. However, he said that the organisation’s structures still existed -- although “significantly changed” or “dissolved” -- and that former members may be engaged in crime.
With elections looming in both jurisdictions, these statements have paved the way for political attacks on Sinn Fein, both north and south.
Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness described today’s UUP decision as being “more about inter-unionist rivalry” than any “feigned concern” about Sinn Fein’s commitment to peace, which he insisted was “unequivocal”.
Anti-republican media organisations in the 26 Counties have also sought to generate anti-Sinn Fein sentiment in response to what they hysterically described as a “renewed IRA threat” to the state. Yesterday, Fine Gael’s Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald asked the Garda police commissioner to conduct a “fresh assessment” of the activities of the the Provisional IRA in light of the reports.
But in recent years a variety of state bodies north and south of the border, including most recently the Gardai police themselves, have stated that the PIRA has ceased its armed activities. Former 26 County Minister for Justice Michael McDowell said this week there had actually been a decision to encourage an “inert” PIRA to continue to exist and fade away through natural attrition, rather than risk a rise in breakaway IRA groups.
Political speculation has now turned to the position of Peter Robinson’s DUP who will be under pressure from unionist hardliners to pull their Ministers out of the Executive. Such a move would collapse the Executive and accelerate the next Stormont Assembly election by several months.
Speaking on RTE radio, Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly said a political crisis had been artificially created around the difference of opinion that the Provisional IRA still exists in some form, but not as a military organisation.
He said there was the possibility that some former members of the IRA may be involved in criminal activity, but “this is not the IRA, it is people acting in a criminal way”.
He said the Provisional IRA made a statement ten years ago that it had “left the stage” and he believes it had.
Sinn Fein TD Brian Stanley also said the PIRA had been “stood down” and no longer existed, and that any proposed review would show this. Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams also emphasised the point this week, altering one of his most famous statements in the aftermath of the PIRA ceasefire by stating that “the IRA has gone away, you know”.