More than a year after the IRA were linked to two murders in Belfast, UUP leader MIKE NESBITT lambasts the DUP and Sinn Fein for their response
New York city was a very dangerous place in the 1990s – 2,245 people died in the city in 1990, a record number of murders.
But that changed suddenly and dramatically, when Mayor Rudy Guiliani decided on a zero tolerance attitude to crime.
There was no turning a blind eye, no passive tolerance, or shrug of the shoulders to indicate that that was the way of the world.
This time last year, Northern Ireland needed to see the same zero tolerance from its political leaders, as one terrorist murder begot another; Kevin McGuigan was shot dead in broad daylight, just as Jock Davison had been a few weeks earlier, both on the streets of our capital city.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland, the British Government and the dogs on the street knew what was happening.
The Provisional IRA were involved.
The police went further, confirming PIRA not only still existed, but did so with a formal structure, which we were later told was indeed the so-called Army Council.
Only Sinn Féin were in denial, true to their name and nature – Ourselves Alone.
The Ulster Unionist Party believes its thoughts and actions must be based on putting the interests of the country ahead of the party.
It was on that basis that we withdrew from the Northern Ireland Executive.
We were, after all, not only sharing power, we were also sitting around the table with Sinn Féin in protracted negotiations chaired by the then Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers, negotiations focused on the finances of our devolved government, the failure to agree welfare reform, and just about everything but the continued existence of the IRA and the fact that some of its number were still wedded to murder.
In withdrawing from the Executive, we forced the issue of terrorism back on to the Stormont House talks agenda.
We got it to the top of the list of issues, and it stayed there, as reflected in the opening pages of the self-styled Fresh Start Agreement and the enabling Westminster legislation.
What has followed has been disappointing, not just the dozens of resignations and reinstatements of DUP Executive ministers during their flip-flop hokey-cokey reaction to Sinn Féin’s denial, but also the commitment, if commitment is the word, to establishing an Independent Reporting Commission, which will report annually on progress towards the final disbandment of paramilitary groups. Annual reports?
How much clearer can the DUP and Sinn Féin be that they are not going to take this opportunity to draw the line in the sand and exhibit a New York-style zero tolerance to terrorism.
The Belfast Agreement was based on the offer of a fully inclusive political future for all. Eighteen years on, it is clear there are some who will never accept that invitation, as was all too evident in the recent murder of John Boreland.
They have effectively excluded themselves. That should be greeted with a clear-cut, decisive and timely reaction, from the police, the criminal justice system, and our politicians.
New York has shown what can be done and how quickly change can be effected.
Timeline of unfolding crisis
May 5 2015: Senior republican Gerard “Jock” Davison, 47, shot dead in Belfast. His funeral four days later was attended by a number of high-profile Sinn Fein figures.
May 12 2015: PSNI rule out dissident republican or loyalist involvement.
August 13 2015: Former IRA man Kevin McGuigan, 53, gunned down in Belfast.
August 18 2015: Four men, including Shankill bomber Sean Kelly, arrested by detectives investigating the McGuigan killing. Former Sinn Fein lord mayor of Belfast Niall O Donnghaile was the only notable political figure in attendance at his funeral.
August 20 2015: First Minister Peter Robinson warns Sinn Fein should be expelled from the Executive if it is proven that the PIRA was involved in murder.
August 21 2015: PSNI says they believe PIRA members were involved in the murder of Kevin McGuigan alongside Action Against Drugs (AAD) – a group that includes ex-IRA men, dissident republicans and criminals. Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams rejects allegations of IRA involvement, and insists the IRA left the stage in 2005.
August 22 2015: PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton says IRA structures still exist, but that it is not on a “war footing”.
August 26 2015: Ulster Unionist Party announces intention to resign from the Executive. Leader Mike Nesbitt says that Sinn Fein’s denials about the IRA are “threadbare”, and that the party has “shattered trust”.