An unexplained week-long delay in the publication of a Government-commissioned review of paramilitarism in Northern Ireland is “concerning”, Mike Nesbitt has said.
The UUP leader made the comment as he issued a warning that the UUP may not sign up to whatever comes out of the talks process – but said that he has no intention of walking away from the negotiations.
The parties now expect to see the report on Tuesday – a week later than they had initially been led to expect it.
Last month the Government commissioned the “factual assessment ... on the structure, role and purpose of paramilitary organisations” from the security services, PSNI and the National Crime Agency.
At the same time, it announced a three-person panel of Lord Carlile, Rosalie Flanagan and Stephen Shaw QC are then to “independently review” the assessment before it is given to the political parties currently in talks at Stormont House.
In a message to his party members, Mr Nesbitt said: “The delay in the publication of the report on paramilitary activity is both frustrating and concerning.
“Arlene Foster has already given a broad hint of the sort of content the DUP require to grasp the fig leaf they need to return to ‘business as usual’ ... Until we get the report, there can be no formal progress in the talks, although the mood music suggests the DUP and Sinn Féin are close to a side deal.
“We will stick in to argue what’s best for the people of Northern Ireland but we give no guarantee we will support the outcome.”
A DUP spokesman dismissed Mr Nesbitt’s comments, saying that the DUP had met with the UUP and SDLP on Thursday and stressing that there was “no private agreement” between the DUP and Sinn Fein.
He added: “We are working towards trying to make progress in the talks – there has been progress to date and we want to see that ramped up.”
An NIO spokeswoman said there was still “no firm date for publication” and declined to say why the report had not yet been made public.
Peter Robinson stood aside last month in place of Arlene Foster, while all of the DUP’s other ministers began a process of rolling resignations and reappointments.
However, Mr Robinson can only stand aside for a maximum period of six weeks, meaning that he will have to return to office by Thursday unless the DUP decides to end the tactic.
If the DUP remain unhappy after the panel report, Mr Robinson could simply return as First Minister and then quickly again step back and put Mrs Foster in his stead.
Meanwhile, a talks source told the News Letter that there will be no talks at all on Monday or Tuesday as the parties await the report.
The document is expected to involve a detailed analysis of each paramilitary group, and there is also likely to be a paper from the panel, setting out its view on the security forces’ assessment.
The report is expected to mirror the assessment of the PSNI last month that the Provisional IRA still exists but does not pose a threat to the Province, something which is likely to bring the DUP back into the Executive.
TUV leader Jim Allister questioned the delay in the paramilitary report’s publication and predicted that “the latest IRA murder, like so many before it, will be swept under the carpet for the sake of the ‘process’”.