Political concerns over the stability of the peace process will have no bearing on the Kevin McGuigan murder investigation, a senior police officer has said.
The sister of Robert McCartney – who was murdered by republicans in 2005 – had questioned whether the PSNI can effectively investigate the killing of the former IRA member in east Belfast earlier this week.
Catherine McCartney called for an outside force to take over the case, saying the PSNI was hamstrung by the need to protect the peace process.
A number of republicans were questioned following her brother’s murder but no one has ever been convicted.
On Wednesday night, Mr McGuigan was shot several times in front of his wife Dolores by two masked men outside their Comber Court home in the Short Strand area.
The 53-year-old was suspected by some republicans of involvement in the murder of former IRA leader Gerard ‘Jock’ Davison in the nearby Markets district three months ago.
It has been claimed the father-of-nine was warned by police of a threat to his life in the aftermath of the Davison murder.
Ms McCartney said she had “zilch confidence” in the PSNI’s ability to carry out a proper investigation because “everything is politically sieved”.
She said: “People in this place need justice, they need a police service that works, they need a police service that is impartial.
“It shouldn’t matter what your involvement is in the peace process or who you are, if you are murdered in the street you deserve protection from the state and you deserve a proper investigation.
“I would be asking people from outside to come in and investigate these murders. I have zilch confidence in the police when it comes to murders like this,” she told the BBC.
However, Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said the PSNI has “the resources, the expertise and the commitment” to investigate serious crime, including murder, “to the highest professional standards”.
ACC Hamilton said: “The particular arrangements in place in Northern Ireland guarantee unprecedented levels of scrutiny and accountability. These ensure that everyone in our community can have confidence that police are answerable for their actions and decisions in conducting major investigations.
“The key to resolving these murders lies with community support and we would appeal for members of the community to come forward and assist us in our inquiries.”
Last night a 44-year-old man and 39-year-old woman who had been arrested in east Belfast on Thursday as part of the “overall investigation” were released unconditionally.
There has been widespread speculation the McGuigan murder was a revenge attack carried out by Mr Davison’s erstwhile associates in the IRA.
If IRA involvement was proven, there could be major implications for the Northern Ireland peace process, with First Minister Peter Robinson warning Sinn Fein they would face expulsion from the power-sharing Executive.
Asked whether he was concerned about the suggestion of mainstream republican involvement, Mr Robinson said: “There must be concern about that. Obviously we want to let the PSNI carry out their investigations but we will want to talk to the police to establish whether there is any organisational involvement from the Provisional IRA. If there is, there will be repercussions.”
However, Sinn Fein has vehemently rejected there was any IRA involvement, and cautioned against the ongoing speculation they said was “unhelpful”.
The officer leading the McGuigan murder investigation, Detective Chief Inspector John McVea, said Mr McGuigan was spoken to by detectives probing the Davison murder, but as a witness not a suspect.
Despite the first minister’s apparent hard line on the issue, TUV leader Jim Allister said the comments had a “hollow ring” because “we’ve heard it all before”.
Mr Allister said: “Empty rhetoric is par for the course when it comes to pro-Agreement unionism and IRA murder. No one seriously believes that it will be any different this time round.”
PUP leader Billy Hutchinson branded the murder of Mr McGuigan a “public execution” and said that “violence and murder have no place in our society”.
Councillor Hutchinson added: “It beggars belief that Sinn Fein can rule out IRA involvement before the PSNI has barely had time to start an investigation.”