Crisis intensifies as DUP threatens to pull the plug on Stormont
Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan says the Government will work tirelessly to prevent a Stormont collapse - despite the threat by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to pull the plug on power-sharing.
Mr Flanagan spoke over the phone with Secretary of State Theresa Villiers yesterday as the fallout from the IRA controversy continues to threaten stability in Northern Ireland.
Ms Villiers was warned that the DUP stands prepared to bring down Stormont if Sinn Féin is not excluded from the Executive.
As the political crisis deepens, the party's deputy leader, Nigel Dodds, said he and his colleagues would push for Sinn Féin to be thrown out of the coalition if they did not deal with revelations about the involvement of some PIRA members in murder.
The crisis, which has sent shockwaves into the Republic, was sparked by revelations of an IRA involvement in the brutal murder of Kevin McGuigan.
The PSNI's Chief Constable George Hamilton confirmed that the Provisional IRA had structures in place and that its members were suspected of being involved in the murder in Belfast.
But the political stakes were raised yesterday after the DUP followed the Ulster Unionist Party in threatening to exclude Sinn Féin. Mr Dodds indicated his party would be prepared to bring down the institutions if the issue was not dealt with "very speedily".
"Our interest is ensuring that this matter is dealt with, that Sinn Fein are put under pressure, that they are forced to deal with this matter and that, if they don't, then they are excluded or devolved government does not continue on that basis - that is our priority, that is our objective," he said.
Sinn Féin finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty weighed into the row for the first time yesterday, insisting that the IRA no longer exists.
"The IRA has gone, it has left the stage. The war is over and they are not coming back," he said.
"The IRA in terms of its operation is disbanded. It is no longer there. It is not coming back and it has announced that this war is over. It was the case a decade ago. It was the case a year ago. It was the case a day ago and it is the case today.
"The people who were involved with the IRA at that time are now getting on with their lives. Some of them are in political circles and some are just getting on with their lives but they are not organised as the IRA anymore."
Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly accused the unionist parties of engaging in a "sham fight" and told them to get back to the work of dealing with the real issues.
"The unionist parties are engaged in a sham fight which is all about the electoral rivalry between the two parties," he said.
The SDLP, which also met Ms Villiers yesterday, said the UUP withdrawal - expected to be endorsed by its ruling executive tomorrow - was "premature".
Party Leader Alasdair McDonnell said his party would not be involved in "knee-jerk" gestures in backing a motion to exclude Sinn Féin because more evidence of IRA involvement was still required.
In Dublin, Mr Flanagan said that despite the current difficulties, the London and Dublin governments would work to avoid a collapse of the power-sharing administration in Belfast. He said this was in the interests of all the Irish people and set out in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
"This afternoon I spoke to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers, and she briefed me on the meetings she had this morning. I look forward to meeting her next week for a full and comprehensive discussion," he said.
Tánaiste Joan Burton also strongly signalled that Labour in government - despite recent harsh criticisms of Sinn Féin - wanted to avoid a Belfast government collapse.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin also said he did not want to see the North's government collapse, arguing it belonged to all the people.
But he also said he believed there were links between IRA criminal activities and Sinn Féin fundraising, and he cited the December 2004 Northern Bank robbery of £26m.
A spokesman for Mr Martin argued that Sinn Féin had rejected allegations made by sex abuse victims last year, which they subsequently had to accept. He said this was just one example of Sinn Féin denying and equivocating about wrong-doing by republicans, which was later not borne out by facts.
Mr Martin also called on Taoiseach Enda Kenny to use his influence to address the crisis in the North.
Mr Kenny remains on holiday and has so far made no public remarks on the impasse or the re-emergence of the IRA.