N.Ireland government faces collapse in IRA row

10th September 2015, Comments 0 comments

Northern Ireland's government moved a step closer to collapse on Thursday when the first minister failed in his bid to suspend its assembly over alleged Irish Republican Army (IRA) activity.

Peter Robinson had said he and fellow ministers from the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) would quit unless the Northern Ireland Assembly was suspended in a vote by the business committee.

But the party was defeated after failing to gain the support of Sinn Fein, the social democratic nationalist SDLP and the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP).

Britain's Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers could still suspend the power-sharing government but it is thought that the government in London does not favour this.

If not, then Robinson has said ministerial resignations will follow "immediately".

The move comes after a senior figure in Sinn Fein, which governs alongside the DUP and wants a united Ireland, was arrested in connection with the shooting of a former IRA gunman last month.

Sinn Fein was the political wing of the IRA during some 30 years of sectarian violence known as The Troubles, which was largely brought to an end by a peace deal in 1998.

The DUP has said that the murder of Kevin McGuigan in Belfast indicates that the IRA is still active, although Sinn Fein strongly denies this.

"The DUP has made it clear it will not be involved in business as usual," Robinson said.

"If others want the assembly to function normally in spite of Sinn Fein's position, we will have reached the point where, as a last resort, we will take this final step."

- 'Inter-party rivalry' -

A DUP pull-out could potentially trigger early elections.

The party requested an adjournment of the assembly at last week's committee meeting, but it was rejected.

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams called Thursday's vote "a very, very clear democratic reiteration of the integrity of these institutions."

The assembly was last suspended between 2002 and 2007 in a row over alleged IRA intelligence gathering in the assembly, when Northern Ireland was governed under direct rule from London.

A string of recent paramilitary-style attacks culminating in the McGuigan murder have prompted unionist parties, loyal to Britain, to accuse Sinn Fein of being dishonest about the IRA's existence.

Well-known republican Bobby Storey -- a former IRA prisoner and northern chairman of Sinn Fein -- was arrested on Wednesday over the murder.

Harold Good, a Methodist minister who took part in overseeing the decommissioning of IRA weapons as part of the peace process, voiced his concern.

"Many of us are fearful that all we have put into this and all that other people have worked for could get lost just too speedily, too swiftly."

"We could be back to square one," he warned.


© 2015 AFP

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