North in crisis - War of words better than the real thing

A DUP delegation met Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers in Belfast yesterday to discuss the furore sparked by the recent murder of IRA man Kevin McGuigan in the city and a PSNI assessment that Provisional IRA members may have been involved.

The DUP’s main electoral rivals, the Ulster Unionists, are set to resign from the Stormont Executive next week over the revelations while the DUP itself wants Sinn Féin ousted from the power sharing executive.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams claims that the IRA has long been a spent force and that the two unionist groups are playing politics but his party is no slouch in that regard either. If this is a case of political brinkmanship both sides are playing a very dangerous game.

The Northern Ireland peace process does what it says on the tin: it is an ongoing negotiation, not an end-game and requires constant vigilance to ensure continued success.

Part of its original operation included an independent verification process to ensure that paramilitaries on both sides were serious about laying down their arms and fully engaging in constitutional politics.

The Independent Monitoring Commission set up in 2004 to monitor paramilitary activity in the North stated in its final report in 2011 that the IRA had “gone out of business as a paramilitary group”.

It was vigorously opposed by Sinn Féin and, on occasion, ridiculed by it. In a Dail debate in June, 2010 the party’s Aengus O Snodaigh referred to it as comprising “three spooks and a lord”.

Its members were Joe Brosnan, retired secretary general of the Department of Justice; Lord Alderdice, former leader of the Alliance Party; John Grieve, former British police officer; and Dick Kerr, former deputy director of the CIA.

The IMC’s final report said while some individual members were involved in criminal activity for personal gain, it believed the organisation was being allowed to “wither away”.

That report was the basis for the Garda Commissioner’s similar assessment last February and is now in doubt, to say the least, in view of the current position of the PSNI. It also raises the question whether loyalist paramilitary organisations may also retain certain military structures.

But the most worrying concern is that the present row could bring about the dissolution of the power sharing executive and a return to direct rule from London.

It such an event, it would not be beyond the bounds of possibility that republican ‘hard men’ would once again emerge and engage in a return to bloodshed and violence.

A war of words is better than the real thing but the reality is that there has been an almost total breakdown of trust between Sinn Féin and the unionist parties with whom it shares power.

Considering the fragility of the peace process, perhaps it is time to reinvigorate the Independent Monitoring Commission to establish what exactly the position is.

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