Analysis: Report blows a hole in key DUP narrative

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In political terms, there are about a dozen aspects of Tuesday’s report which would individually have been difficult for the DUP.

Taken together, those issues create fundamental and far-reaching problems for Peter Robinson because they undermine the narrative which the DUP has created about its decision to share power with Sinn Fein since 2007.

That narrative states that David Trimble was a weak leader who Sinn Fein pushed around. But since the DUP became the largest unionist party in 2005 it had secured “total” IRA decommissioning, Sinn Fein support for the police and “an end to all IRA activity”.

In 2008, Mr Robinson said: “We require the removal of the IRA’s Army Council and we’ve always made that clear.”

Just a year earlier, William McCrea had said: “Let there be no doubt whatsoever that the Army Council has to go.”

In that context, Tuesday’s report’s suggestion that the Army Council might — and IRA members believe that it does — effectively run Sinn Fein, while the IRA has not, as claimed, decommissioned all its weapons, could hardly be more. There is a brutal and inescapable similarity between Mr Robinson’s present position — as he desperately attempts to keep Stormont in place — and that of the man he lampooned in similar situations, David Trimble.

But although the DUP’s tactics had got the party on a particular hook which made this unusually tricky for Mr Robinson, Sinn Fein should be similarly concerned about the implications of this report.

The mere suggestion that a democratic party might be secretly controlled by an illegal organisation creates a new problem for it in the Republic, where it was already having to adapt to an improving economic situation ahead of next Spring’s election.

Though the public have been repeatedly reassured that the IRA is withering away, Tuesday’s report shows that it, Rasputin-like, refuses to die — and is still massively influencing politics 18 years after its final ceasefire.