Patience runs out with unionist grandstanding

Posted By: October 24, 2015

Newton Emerson Saturday column . Irish News(Belfast). Saturday, October 24, 2015
 Peter Robinson was back at his desk and smiling for photographers within hours of the paramilitary assessment panelâ??s report being presented to the House of Commons
For just under an hour after Secretary of State Theresa Villiers presented the paramilitary assessment panel’s report to the Commons, it seemed that Stormont was in real trouble. How could the DUP go back into government if all the IRA’s structures still exist and IRA members “believe” the army council runs Sinn Féin? Yet suddenly Peter Robinson and his ministers were back at their desks and smiling for photographs, with no explanation bar a press release too convoluted to have been written in an hour, claiming they had been vindicated by the release of Sinn Féin national chairperson Bobby Storey – which took place the day after the hokey-cokey resignations began. So what had the last six weeks been about? Internal unionist grandstanding is the answer and the first lesson to be taken from recent events is that British patience with that has completely run out.

Patience with Sinn Féin doubletalk is also wearing thin, as the panel’s report has abandoned all pretence of Sinn Féin and the IRA being separate organisations. This overturns the key 2008 Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) report designed to smooth the devolution of policing and justice. That report, based on the same intelligence methods and sources as this week’s report, claimed the army council was “no longer operational and functional” and all other IRA structures were “being allowed to wither away”. Instead, it seems the peace process’s ‘constructive ambiguity’ will wither away first. It may take a little longer to wither in the Republic, where a related Garda intelligence report this week cited the same 2008 IMC findings that MI5 and the PSNI had just thrown in the bin.

Short and serious though it was, the panel report found time for a moment of levity. The reference to IRA members supporting Sinn Féin through “activity like electioneering and leafleting” looked suspiciously like a joke – at Sinn Féin and the DUP’s expense.


A DUP return to Stormont means a return of the Stormont House talks, which the UUP has promptly threatened to leave. Emerging from the first session, chaired by Theresa Villiers and Irish foreign minister Charlie Flanagan, Mike Nesbitt complained he had been told off then ignored after trying to raise the issue of the IRA army council three times. He even quoted Villiers as telling him his question was “not appropriate” and Flanagan as telling him it was “less then positive”. Despite making quite a good joke comparing the talks to the ‘don’t mention the war’ episode of Fawlty Towers, detailing the contempt of your peers is a strange approach for any political leader to take – especially in negotiations.