Peter Robinson has threatened specific action aimed at kicking Sinn Fein out of government over potential IRA involvement in the murder of Kevin McGuigan – although Gerry Kelly denied that the IRA exist at all.
The First Minister warned that he may soon begin talks with other parties about an “exclusion motion” which would strip the republican party of its ministerial positions, after the PSNI said it believes a range of people – including PIRA members – may have had a role in the shooting.
He said a further update on IRA involvement will be sought from the Chief Constable before the Assembly reconvenes at the start of September.
After that, Mr Robinson will draw a conclusion on whether to start efforts to boot the republican party out of the power-sharing structure.
However, to get such a motion through the Assembly, Mr Robinson would seek the support of other parties.
Mr Robinson said in a statement last night: “The basis upon which the DUP entered government with republicans was a commitment to exclusively peaceful and democratic means through support for the police, the courts and the rule of law, as well as the dismantling of the structures of their terrorist organisation.
“That remains the basis upon which parties serve in the Executive.”
In response to the PSNI statement, Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly told reporters that the IRA does not exist at all.
SEE VIDEO OF GERRY KELLY , WHO SAID THE IRA HAD “GONE”.
Catherine McCartney, sister of murder victim Robert, derided the idea that groups like AAD – suspected of involvement in the McGuigan killing – were distinct from the IRA.
Meanwhile yesterday, a man who was charged with a firearms offence by detectives probing Mr McGuigan’s murder appeared in court.
The court heard as police approached he had tried to flee with a gun.
His lawyer said he had the weapon to “protect his family”.
PSNI Detective Superintendent Kevin Geddes noted yesterday that a group called Action Against Drugs (AAD) had announced earlier this month it would “execute” anyone it believed was involved in May’s murder of IRA commander Gerard ‘Jock’ Davison.
He told reporters: “We have a main line of inquiry that Kevin McGuigan was murdered by members of AAD in what they believe to have been in revenge for the murder of Jock Davison.”
He said AAD was made up of “criminals, violent dissident republicans and former members of PIRA”.
He insisted AAD was “separate” from the PIRA.
But he also added: “It is my assessment at this stage and my belief that people who are members of the PIRA were involved in this murder, but we will not speculate on at what level.”
He did not know if it had been sanctioned at a “command level”.
Peter Robinson’s statement said that “there can be no place for terror and murderous activity on our streets and republicans cannot be in the Executive in circumstances where this murder was the work of the PIRA...
“To ensure that dealing with this issue is pursued in a manner which attracts the widest possible consensus we will have discussions with other parties about tabling the necessary exclusion motion in the Assembly and asking the Secretary of State to intervene in circumstances where the evidence points to the IRA being involved.”
In reaction to the police statement, Sinn Fein held a press conference at its west Belfast headquarters led by bomber-turned-politician Gerry Kelly.
He was joined by Alex Maskey, who last Thursday had declared: “I don’t accept for one second that the IRA has been involved in this, it just does not register at all.”
Last night, Mr Kelly said the IRA does not exist.
He said: “I notice that in the statement from police today, that they pointed towards a group called Action Against Drugs (AAD) as possibly being involved in this.
“If that is true, let me repeat again what I have laid out myself before – that this is a criminal gang, that it has been involved in north Belfast and in other places in everything from extortion to murder already.”
Asked if AAD was a front for the PIRA, he said: “Absolutely not.”
He said it had been involved in extorting drug dealers and intimidating people on building sites.
He was asked about the police’s reference to current PIRA members being suspected in the killing.
“The IRA has gone – it has left the stage,” said Mr Kelly.
“It made a statement in, I think, July of 2005. It said it was gone.”
He said the police statement was “quite contradictory”.
“So let me make this clear again,” he added. “They’re saying it was the AAD. If it is the AAD, I’m telling you – it is a criminal gang.”
The phrase “the IRA has left the stage” was repeated another four times by him.
For instance, when asked if it was still in existence as an organisation, he said: “No, it’s not an organisation today. It has left the stage. It has made it clear.”
Asked if the Army Council still exists, he said: “If it doesn’t exist, it doesn’t exist ... the IRA has gone away.”
SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell said: “The PIRA in whatever form it exists, despite whatever contortions it may have gone through, still appears to claim the right to exercise life and death decisions over anyone in the community that they develop a grudge against.”
UUP leader Mike Nesbitt called for more clarity, and said: “Could it be that the republican movement retained a PIRA unit with access to weapons to deal with situations that they deemed required a dip back into the old terrorist ways?”
Alliance MLA Stephen Farry, meanwhile, said: “At this stage, it’s wrong for some to blindly deny any involvement of PIRA, and it is wrong for people to jump to conclusions as to what this inevitably means for the political structures.”