The DUP leader Peter Robinson has said the failure of the British government to make a statement addressing its demands has ‘delayed’ the start of crisis talks aimed at rescuing the North’s political institutions.
In a statement closely watched by unionists, British Direct Ruler Theresa Villiers today told the House of Commons that that the situation in the Six Counties is “very grave”, and that a new monitoring body to report on allegations of IRA activity might help.
She said relationships between the political parties had “almost completely broken down.”
“That leaves the devolved institutions looking increasingly dysfunctional,” she said.
The PSNI have claimed individual PIRA members were involved in the killing last month of republican Kevin McGuigan, allegedly in response to the ‘grudge killing’ of former PIRA commander Jock Davison in May. Sinn Fein has insisted that the Provisional IRA has fully disbanded and suggested that British agents, criminals or ‘dissident elements’ were involved in the two killings.
“The brutal murders of Gerard Davison and Kevin McGuigan have brought into sharp focus the continuing problems around the existence of paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland and the involvement of some of their members in criminality and organised crime,” Ms Villiers told the House of Commons today.
“Serious consideration needs to be given to whether the time is right to re-establish a body along the lines of the Independent Monitoring Commission,” she said.
The IMC was set up in 2004 to issue assessments on the status of IRA and loyalist paramilitary activity. It was disbanded in March 2011 amid criticism that it served merely as a mouthpiece for MI5 and RUC/PSNI Special Branch.
Villiers’s vow to examine the re-establishment of the IMC did not appease DUP leader Peter Robinson, who described her speech as merely “a holding statement”.
“This delays the start of talks,” he tweeted. “We await her response.”
Unionists have said they are prepared to attend more talks only “in the right circumstances.” Last week, Mr Robinson submitted the resignation of three DUP ministers and his party has been completely boycotting proceedings of the Belfast Assembly (pictured).
While the Conservative Party holds a narrow majority at Westminster, there are concerns over the DUP’s potential to exert influence over the Tories in tight parliamentary divisions.
Speaking today, Villiers appeared closer to going ‘over the heads’ of Sinn Fein by again threatening to impose highly controversial welfare cuts through special legislation at Westminster.
“Without welfare reform and steps to tackle in-year budget pressures, there is a real danger that executive departments could start running out of money,” she said.
However, she ruled out suspending the Assembly entirely as “not something that the [British government] believes would be justified in current circumstances”.
Sinn Fein has previously condemned the British threats to expand direct rule. Speaking on Monday, Martin McGuinness said the only two options to the current negotiations were “talks [with] a successful outcome, or elections.”
He said there can be no preconditions to multi-party talks.
He also suggested that British state agents or other elements hostile to the peace process may have been responsible for the two killings. He said those elements wished to create difficulties for Sinn Fein and DUP leader Peter Robinson, who last week ‘stood aside’ as First Minister.
“The more I consider and the more I think about how all this began, with the murders of two people - and our hearts absolutely go out to their families, Jock Davison and Kevin McGuigan - you need to be stupid folks not to be asking the question whose agenda is best served by those murders,” he said.
“It certainly wasn’t our agenda, it wasn’t Sinn Fein’s agenda, it wasn’t the Sinn Fein peace strategy agenda, and in my opinion it wasn’t Peter Robinson’s agenda. This is something that has caused huge problems for us within the political institutions.”
He added: “So I think serious questions have to be asked about whose agenda was served by those murders, particularly as we all know that the prospect that agents were involved, people who are hostile to the peace process, who are hostile to Sinn Fein’s involvement in the political institutions.”
He said the murders had “created problems” for Sinn Fein and for Robinson.
“The root of this is two murders and the people who are responsible for those murders are either criminals, agents, dissidents... They are certainly not supporters of ours.”
MAINSTREAM MEDIA CONDEMNED
He was speaking after the leading Sinn Fein official whose arrest heightened the crisis spoke out in his defence at a press conference in west Belfast. The party’s northern chairman Bobby Storey and two other well-known republicans were taken into custody on Wednesday morning, but all were released unconditionally on Thursday night.
Mr Storey said that he had been “subjected to trial by media by sections of the media”.
“The IRA is gone. The IRA is stood down, they have put their arms beyond use, they have left the stage, they’re away and they are not coming back,” he said. “So there is no current status of the IRA. There are no IRA members. The IRA has gone.”
At another stage of the press conference he said, “I think the chief constable and other perspectives out there see this in terms of the IRA being the caterpillar that is still there. What I think is that it’s moved on, it’s become a butterfly, it’s flew away, it’s gone, it’s disappeared,” he said.
Of his arrest and release last week, Mr Storey confirmed he was to take legal proceedings against the PSNI police chief, although he continued to support the investigation into the killings.
“At no time during my detention did the police present a shred of evidence or intelligence, which in either my opinion or the opinion of my solicitor, warranted my arrest,” he said. “Questions must be asked about the timing and nature of my wrongful arrest.”
Mr Storey said “the political process should not be held to ransom by criminals”.
“I absolutely reject the attempts of the unionist parties to cynically use these murders and my wrongful detention to threaten the political institutions,” he added.
“The behaviour of the unionist parties, who have cynically used my arrest to pull down the political institutions, has been nothing short of disgraceful. They have succeeded only in holding the political process to ransom and providing encouragement to the dissident elements and the criminals who murdered Jock Davison and Kevin McGuigan.”
Bilateral “talks about talks” are to resume at Stormont tomorrow.