The findings of an independent report on paramilitary activity in the North “entirely and totally” vindicates a withdrawal from the power-sharing political institutions, the Ulster Unionists have said.
Leader Mike Nesbitt said the assessment garnered from the police and intelligence agencies in the UK made clear the existence of the IRA.
Although he said the UUP would continue in crisis talks to resolve the current impasse, he cautioned it may only be “in the short term”.
Mr Nesbitt said: “It is clear from this document that the IRA still exists, still has access to weapons and still has structures commanded by an army council which not only directs the IRA but directs Sinn Féin.
“We will not respect the mandate of a Provisional army council, of unnamed shadowy individuals previously responsible for the most lethal terrorist force on planet earth.”
Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister, an arch critic of the Assembly, believes the report was sanitised.
He said: “This report, which I have no doubt, was sanitised and massaged as much as it could be for the sake of the political requirements of the process nonetheless makes some matters very, very clear and indisputable.
“It is quite clear that the Provisional IRA, not only still exists but that it has structures.
“One thing that certainly we do know is that they have an army council. We also know they have weapons and we know, in the words of this report that some of their members have assisted dissidents.”
Sinn Féin's deputy first minister at Stormont Martin McGuinness insisted his party was the ``only organisation'' that represented the mainstream republican movement.
“As far as I am concerned Sinn Féin is the only republican organisation involved in the peace process, in democratic politics and in political activism,” he said. “We take instructions from no one else.”
Meanwhile, the SDLP said it was not surprised by the panel’s findings.
Party leader Alasdair McDonnell said: “They may be committed to peace but too many of their members want a piece of the action on the side.”
West Belfast MLA Alex Attwood said they would continue in government.
“People would not forgive us if we again let them down by walking away from the talks and walking away from Government. Let’s for once and for all deal comprehensively with the past, deal with the challenges of budget and deal with the legacy of paramilitarism,” he said.