The Northern Ireland Executive could be on the verge of collapsing. How and why did we get here?

Posted By: September 06, 2015

The Dublin).August27th , 2015


THE CRISIS OVER the current status of the Provisional IRA has escalated today with comments from a senior Democratic Unionist Party MP.
The DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson told BBC Radio 4 that the party would be prepared to bring down the fragile Northern Ireland Executive over the issue.
He said “it is only the DUP who can deal with this issue now” and said the party would move to exclude Sinn Féin from the power-sharing executive, adding:
In the end, if the other parties are not prepared to support the exclusion of Sinn Féin, then we will act unilaterally, and if that means that we have a period in Northern Ireland where we don’t have a government until we resolve and sort out these issues then so be it.
His comments came a day after the Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt said the party intends to leave the executive.
The executive is a power-sharing government of Northern Ireland that draws ministers from the five biggest parties. The DUP is the largest and Sinn Féin is the second largest.
Therefore excluding Sinn Féin would collapse the executive and create a period of huge uncertainty in the North.
Collapse of the executive would require both the British and Irish governments, as co-guarantors of the historic Good Friday Agreement, to effectively take charge and seek to broker some sort of new power-sharing deal. 
But why has it come to this? 
The row goes back to the shooting dead of ex-PIRA member Kevin McGuigan on 13 August. McGuigan was one a number of suspects in the murder of Gerard Jock Davison, a former senior IRA figure, in May.

In the course of investigation the McGuigan shooting, PSNI superintendent Kevin Geddes suggested that members of the PIRA were involved.
“[A] major line of inquiry for this investigation is that members of the Provisional IRA were involved in this murder,” he said. 
The chief constable of the PSNI followed this up last weekend by saying that he PIRA still exists although it purpose has “radically changed” since the 1990s. He said there was no evidence that the organisation formally sanctioned the McGuigan murder. But he added:
Some current Provisional IRA and former members continue to engage in a range of criminal activity and occasional violence in the interest of personal gain or personal agendas.
These comments prompted huge controversy in the North as the PIRA is, officially at least, supposed to have disbanded a decade ago. 
Why does the status of the PIRA matter? 
The entire power-sharing arrangement in the North is predicated on the organisation’s 2005 declaration that it had disarmed.
The very suggestion that the PIRA is still in existence has prompted huge unease among unionists and led to strong criticism of Sinn Féin by other political parties in the Republic.
In the wake of the PSNI’s comments, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald asked the Garda Commissioner to liaise with Northern police in carrying out a fresh assessment of the status of the Provisional IRA.
She also called on Sinn Féin and Gerry Adams to outline what steps the party will take to ensure it does not benefit from the proceeds of crime.
What does Sinn Féin say? 

Sinn Féin has repeatedly maintained the PIRA is no more. Senior party figures have, at various stages, used the terms “left the stage”, “gone”, “no more” and “no longer exists” in relation to the organisation.
Party leader Gerry Adams said yesterday that Sinn Féin ”has no special, or particular or specific responsibility to respond to the allegations made about the IRA” as the organisation no longer exists.
Sinn Féin believes its political opponents are using this controversy to discredit the party and halt its political advancement in the North and particularly the South in recent years.
For political parties in the Republic, associating Sinn Féin with violence and criminality, and calling into question Adams’ denials of IRA membership suits them. It’s a very simple way of showing voters why they should not vote Sinn Féin at the next general election.

While in the North, unionist parties argue that if they can’t trust Sinn Féin about the status of the PIRA, then what can they trust them on when it comes to running a power-sharing government.
As Nesbitt put it yesterday: “We have no trust and without trust we have nothing”.
What happens next? 
Ahead of any moves to exclude Sinn Féin, the DUP is due to meet with the Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers.
She said yesterday that her government maintained fully committed to the devolved political institutions in the North and added that she will continue discussions with the various parties over the controversy.
The PSNI is continuing its investigation into the McGuigan murder.
With the Northern Executive seemingly on a knife edge you can expect the controversy to rumble on for a while yet.