Northern Ireland’s power-sharing coalition is hanging in the balance after the largest Unionist party said it was willing to collapse the Stormont government over claims that the IRA continues to exist and is involved in violence.
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) said there could be no “business as usual” in Northern Ireland’s ruling Executive and warned it was preparing a motion to suspend Sinn Fein from the regional government.
The comments further deepened the row over the status of the Provisional IRA following the murder of one of its former members earlier this month and a statement from police that individual members of the former terror group were suspected of the killing.
The DUP move came after the smaller Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) announced on Wednesday that it expects to quit Stormont next week over the claims that Republican undertakings that the IRA would be disbanded as a paramilitary force had not been honoured. Sinn Fein has denied the IRA remains active and accused the UUP of playing party politics.
Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP MP for Lagan Valley, said that if other parties in the power-sharing Executive refused to back his party’s motion for the suspension of Sinn Fein then it would bring down the institutions, most likely on a temporary basis.
Mr Donaldson told BBC News: “In the end, if the other parties are not prepared to support the exclusion of Sinn Fein, then we will act unilaterally, and if that means that we have a period in Northern Ireland where we don’t have a government until we resolve and sort out these issues then so be it.”
The crisis, which follows a meeting between DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds and the Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers, has its roots in the murder a fortnight ago of Kevin McGuigan. The former IRA prisoner was blamed by some within the Republican movement for the killing in May of Gerard “Jock” Davison, a prominent former commander of the terror group in Belfast.
In response to the death of Mr McGuigan, the chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, George Hamilton, said that the IRA retained a leadership structure and some of the former terror group’s members were suspected of involvement in the killing. But he added that there was no evidence that the shooting had been sanctioned by the organisation and that its activities were political rather than being engaged in terrorism.
Such is the symbolism of the name of the IRA, the assessment that it continues to exist drew complaints from Unionists that this represented a potential breach of the Good Friday peace agreement and grounds for ending the power-sharing administration with five parties including Sinn Fein.
Mr Dodds said that Mrs Villiers had agreed with him that “business as usual” could not continue in Stormont and said his party would be seeking a meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron.
Sinn Fein has rejected the police assessment. Party president Gerry Adams said last week: “The war is over. The IRA is gone and not coming back. This has been acknowledged and evidenced over the past 10 years.”
Gerry Kelly, Sinn Fein member for North Belfast in the Northern Ireland Assembly, told BBC Radio Ulster: “I do not think the executive should fall. [UUP leader] Mike Nesbitt is trying to push the DUP into the following them.”
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