Ulster Unionists intend to resign from Northern Ireland Executive over claims Provisional IRA still exists
The Ulster Unionists have announced their intent to resign from Northern Ireland's power-sharing executive and form an opposition over claims the Provisional IRA still exists.
While the move by the UUP, a minor partner in the five-party mandatory coalition, will not automatically trigger the collapse of the administration it does throw its future into serious doubt, as pressure will now mount on the region's largest party, the Democratic Unionists, to follow suit.
The move comes in the wake of an assessment by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) that structures of the supposedly defunct paramilitary organisation are still operating, and some of its members were involved in the murder of Belfast father-of-nine Kevin McGuigan two weeks ago.
Meanwhile, Tanaiste Joan Burton says she would like to see the garda report into the structures of the IRA published before the General Election.
As the political fallout continues, Ms Burton said she feels a sense of "trepidation" that there is now a movement towards "mafia style organisations" which would cause a major threat to communities.
The latest comes as it emerged yesterday that Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has ordered Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan to carry out a "fresh assessment" of the IRA.
The move has raised questions over the credibility of the commissioner after she sent a letter in February which said she has "no intelligence" to suggest the IRA military structures remain.
Speaking at an event in Dublin City today, Ms Burton said she anticipates a detailed discussion by Cabinet on the matters arising from the claims by Chief Constable George Hamilton that the IRA was involved in the murder of Kevin McGuigan in East Belfast.
Asked whether she would like to see the garda report published before the General Election, Ms Burton said:
"I anticipate the report, I would hope will be available in a relatively short time frame. Yes."
"This is a very important issue for the future of our democracy. This is not about history. This is about Ireland here and now. This is about people who murdered, by people who have gone into some kind of shadowy existence. What we do not want in this country is a shadowy organisation."
The Labour Party leader also responded to claims by former Justice Minister Michael McDowell in the Irish Times that the IRA was allowed continue as an "unarmed and withering husk".
Ms Burton added: "Dried out husks don't set out to murder people and we have to address this as a society and a democracy."
Calls on Sinn Fein
Meanwhile, Defence Minister Simon Coveney has called on Sinn Fein to openly distance the party from the involvement of the Provisional IRA in criminality.
The minister said this afternoon that Sinn Fein could no longer maintain its current approach of denying everything.
"That approach will not work", he added. "I don't believe there is anybody who believes that Gerry Adams was not a member of the IRA".
Mr Coveney said he believed the fresh assessment from Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan on the current status of the Provisionals would be available to Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald fairly quickly.
In the meantime, he advised everybody to be cautious in what they said.
"We have a peace process that nobody should take for granted and I think it will overcome the latest threat to its existence.
"I believe that Sinn Fein is committed to a peaceful and political future and have moved away from their past.
But he said the assessment available to him as defence minister indicated that while the Provisional IRA was no longer a paramilitary organisation, some of its members were involved in criminality and offences such as racketeering.
This was in line with the views held by the PSNI, the Garda and the Independent Monitoring Commission.
He said he was slow to react to opinions expressed by former Justice Minister Michael McDowell about the Irish and British governments reaction to the involvement of IRA figures in crime.
He said Mr McDowell was referring to what might have taken place in 2005 when he was in the Dept of Justice.
But Frances Fitzgerald was now minister and she was basing her views on the current day assessments she received.
'Party political interests'
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has claimed the controversy surrounding claims the Provisional IRA still exists is motivated by “party political and electoral interests”.
Mr Adams also said Unionist politicians “ignored” parts of the statement by PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton – who said the PIRA still exists but is not involved in terrorism - that does not “fit with their narrative”.
In an article due to be published in the Anderson News, Mr Adams said Mr McGuigan was shot after “media speculation” linked him to the killing of Gerard ‘Jock’ Davison.
“This problem is not of our making. Sinn Féin has no responsibility whatsoever for those who killed Kevin McGuigan or Jock Davison. The response of the other political parties to these killings has been self-serving and short sighted,” he writes.
He added: “Indeed given the manner in which the debate has descended into personalised attack, invective and Sinn Féin baiting, it is hard to know how the other parties, Executive Ministers or Irish government Ministers would hope to sort this crisis out.
Unless of course, and I accuse them of this, they are motivated entirely by party political and electoral interests.”
Mr Adams said Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald “uncharacteristically undermined” her position by trying to “politically smear” Sinn Féin.
He said Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin is using the Belfast murders “party political purposes”.
“He was the Minister for Foreign Affairs when the then Minister for Justice, Dermott Ahern said that the IRA was gone and not coming back,” Mr Adams said.
“In 2010 when Sinn Féin successfully negotiated the transfer of policing and justice with the two governments he was part of process. He never raised the matter with me once. But now we are on the cusp of an election and Micheál Martin is in electioneering mode.”