UUP MLA Doug Beattie has claimed that senior IRA men have been present at Stormont talks, and has asked if “shadowy figures” are directing Sinn Fein policy after claims that Michelle O’Neill’s willingness to strike a deal was overruled by more senior republicans.
Last week Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams challenged Taoiseach Leo Varadkar over a report that cited Irish government sources as saying that Sinn Fein’s Stormont leader Mrs O’Neill was prepared to strike a deal with the DUP but was overruled by colleagues.
Sinn Fein vehemently rejected the claim while Mr Varadkar responded to Mr Adams that he had no knowledge or interest in possible “disagreements or rivalries” within Sinn Fein.
Mr Beattie said he recognised senior IRA figures around the talks.
A 2015 government assessment on paramilitary groups found that the senior leadership of PIRA, the Provisional Army Council and some PIRA departments continue to exist.
The report said: “PIRA members believe that PAC oversee both PIRA and Sinn Fein with an overarching stratgey. We judge this strategy has a wholly political focus.”
Mr Beattie said he was concerned these elements may have overruled Mrs O’Neill’s willingness to strike a deal with the DUP.
He added: “Some of the individuals who have been present at Stormont supporting Sinn Fein at various points during the current talks process, would not have been unknown to the security forces and once held senior rank in the IRA’s terrorist structures.
“It would be beyond belief if a deal to restore devolution was being vetoed by armchair generals whose day should have gone long ago.
“The people of Northern Ireland are entitled to know just who really is in charge. Is it democratically elected politicians, or are shadowy figures really directing policy within one of our two largest parties?”
Sinn Fein did not directly address Mr Beattie’s claims but instead attacked the track record of Mr Beattie’s party on rights and equality.
Sinn Fein MLA Cathal Boylan said: “Doug Beattie needs to realise he is living in 2017 and that the unionist one-party apartheid state closed for business in 1972.”
“Sinn Féin supports rights and equality for all citizens. Doug Beattie knows well that only political institutions which deliver for all on the basis of equality, rights and respect will be credible and sustainable.
“So his party is currently faced with a clear choice. He and his colleagues can continue to defend the indefensible and deny citizens what he would regard as British rights or they could support the extension of rights on language and marriage and the right to a coroner’s inquest enjoyed by people everywhere else on these islands.”
The DUP’s Sir Jeffrey Donaldson branded Mr Beattie’s claims as “fake news”, saying: “There is no deal, was no deal and therefore nothing for anyone to overrule.
“We will continue to strive for agreement at Stormont as we recognise that the people of Northern Ireland want to see a functioning Executive restored as a matter of priority.”