A senior republican whose arrest over an IRA-linked murder escalated the current political crisis in Northern Ireland has accused unionists of using his “wrongful detention” to try to pull down power sharing.
Sinn Féin northern chairman Bobby Storey and two other well-known republicans were taken into custody on Wednesday. They were released without charge on Thursday night.
But during the period they were being questioned by detectives, Stormont’s first minister Peter Robinson stepped down and three of his Democratic Unionist ministers quit the Stormont coalition Executive.
The DUP mass resignation threat and subsequent walkout was prompted by the three arrests, amid claims the investigation into the shooting of former IRA man Kevin McGuigan had reached into the senior levels of Sinn Féin.
The Ulster Unionists pulled out of the Executive last month, claiming trust in Sinn Féin has been destroyed.
Commenting publicly on his arrest for the first time, Mr Storey said: “I absolutely reject the attempts of the unionist parties to cynically use these murders and my wrongful detention to threaten these political institutions.”
Police have said current members of the IRA were involved in last month’s shooting of Mr McGuigan in a suspected revenge attack for the murder of former IRA commander Gerard ‘Jock’ Davison in Belfast three months earlier.
The disclosures about the IRA have heaped pressure on Sinn Féin to explain why the supposedly defunct paramilitary organisation is still in existence. Sinn Féin has insisted the IRA has gone away and has accused the unionist parties of contriving a crisis for electoral gain.
Mr Storey added: “The behaviour of the unionist parties, who have cynically used my arrest to pull down the political institutions, has been nothing short of disgraceful.
“They have succeeded only in holding the political process to ransom and providing encouragement to the dissident elements and the criminals who murdered Jock Davison and Kevin McGuigan.”
Mr Storey said he had “serious concerns’’ over his arrest, and the timing of it and claimed “not a shred of evidence or intelligence’’ was presented to him during questioning.
But he backed the PSNI as the appropriate body to investigate the two murders.
The republican veteran said the “IRA has gone away” and was “not coming back”.
“The people who murdered both men are criminals and enemies of the Sinn Féin peace strategy,” he said.
“Every effort must be made to ensure they are brought before the courts to face due process.”
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