N.Ireland government faces collapse in IRA row

10th September 2015, Comments 0 comments

Northern Ireland's first minister threatened to resign on Thursday over alleged Irish Republican Army (IRA) activity, in a political crisis that could roll back progress made since the end of the conflict.

Peter Robinson said he and fellow ministers from the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) would quit unless the Northern Ireland Assembly was suspended, which would put the power-sharing executive on the brink of collapse.

His comments came after a senior figure in Sinn Fein, which governs alongside the DUP and wants Northern Ireland to become part of 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' -

The issue is set to be decided at a vote of the assembly's business committee, at which the DUP will ask for the assembly to be adjourned.

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

If neither happens, Robinson has said the ministerial resignation will follow "immediately".

The move could potentially trigger early elections.

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

Sinn Fein's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said that suspending the assembly would be a mistake.

"I think it would send a very negative message and would be grist to the mill of those who in the past have tried to plunge us back to the past," he told reporters.

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 the 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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