Sunday 24 June 2018

UUP plunges the Northern Executive into crisis

Danny Kennedy (left) and Mike Nesbitt of the Ulster Unionist Party at Stormont yesterday. Photo: PA
Danny Kennedy (left) and Mike Nesbitt of the Ulster Unionist Party at Stormont yesterday. Photo: PA
Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness

David Young and Michael McHugh

Northern Ireland's power-sharing Executive has been plunged into fresh crisis after the Ulster Unionists announced their intention to walk away from the administration over claims that the Provisional IRA still exists.

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said trust in Sinn Féin had been shattered by the revelations and his party had been left with no option other than to resign from the five-party coalition and form an opposition in the Stormont Assembly.

"Without trust, there is nothing," Mr Nesbitt said.

While the dramatic move by one of the three minor coalition partners 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.

If the DUP left the Executive, it would fold immediately.

Sinn Féin accused the UUP of cynical politicking and claimed the party was trying to contrive a crisis to gain an electoral edge over the DUP ahead of next year's Assembly poll.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said on Twitter: "This decision by the UUP is more about inter-unionist rivalry than their and others' feigned concern about our unequivocal commitment to #Peace."

The DUP also accused the UUP of hypocrisy, noting that the party sat in an Executive with Sinn Féin before the IRA had decommissioned.

"The UUP record of government is one of crisis and collapse," said DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds.

"The UUP previously sat in government with Sinn Féin before decommissioning and whenever the PIRA was armed and active. For the UUP to try and rewrite history is downright hypocritical and misleading."

Mr Dodds said if anyone should be excluded from Executive it should be Sinn Féin, not unionists, claiming that "profound questions" had been raised about the republican party's fitness for government.

The DUP is to meet Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers for talks tomorrow and is seeking an "urgent meeting" with British Prime Minister David Cameron.

The UUP decision comes after the PSNI said structures of the PIRA were still operating and some of its members were involved in the murder of Belfast father-of-nine Kevin McGuigan two weeks ago.

It is almost 20 years since the Provisional IRA's last ceasefire and a decade on from the supposed decommissioning of its weapons.

Mr Nesbitt claimed that Sinn Féin's continual denials about the IRA had punched a hole in the fabric of the agreement.

"We are in a bad place, but this can be fixed," he said. "But the IRA need to go away and stop terrorising their own communities. So do the UDA, and UVF and Red Hand Commando - and the rest. And I wouldn't argue if they took down their paramilitary flags on the way out

"Our vision remains that of a Northern Ireland that is totally peaceful and where everyone prospers - republicans, nationalists and unionists equally."

At the weekend, PSNI chief constable George Hamilton said that the IRA still exists but is not engaged in terrorism, and is instead pursuing the path of peaceful, political republicanism.

Irish Independent

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