A day after a Government assessment said that the IRA did not decommission all of its weapons and believes that it effectively runs Sinn Fein, the Stormont talks about paramilitarism have refused to discuss the IRA Army Council.
At the Stormont House talks yesterday — which were meant to be discussing paramilitaries — UUP leader Mike Nesbitt attempted to raise the issue of the IRA by asking the Secretary of State whether he had been in a room with members of the IRA Army Council. Theresa Villiers reportedly told Mr Nesbitt that for security reasons it would “not be appropriate” for her to answer his question by naming those who are on the IRA’s top command structure.
And Irish foreign minister Charlie Flanagan told Mr Nesbitt that his question was “less than positive”.
Afterwards, Mr Nesbitt said that the talks had “ignored the elephant in the room”.
He said: “Three times I attempted to bring up the issue of the existence of the IRA Army Council. The first time I was admonished for doing so and on the other two occasions I was just ignored.
“There was not a meaningful discussion about the fact that the report says that the IRA exists. Nobody wanted to address that, particularly not the Irish government.
“There is a once in a lifetime opportunity to finally rid this country, and this island, of the toxin of paramilitarism, but that can only happen if everyone is going to get real.
“And that means Sinn Fein getting real about the IRA.
“How can you possibly agree a strategy for addressing paramilitarism if Sinn Fein continue to deny the existence of the IRA?”
Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy accused Mr Nesbitt of “hypocrisy”.
He said: “He criticises Sinn Fein while cosying up to active armed loyalist gangs when it suits him...he has also singularly failed to confront armed loyalist gangs who are tormenting their own communities through extortion, drug dealing and murder.
“That is the real elephant in the room.”
A DUP source yesterday told the News Letter that the phones in a DUP constituency office in an area where the party has strong support were ringing constantly yesterday with people unhappy at the party’s decision to re-enter government with Sinn Fein despite Tuesday’s revelations about the IRA.
Speaking in the House of Lords on Tuesday afternoon, two senior unionist peers raised serious concerns about the potential for criminal gains secured by the IRA being used to fund Sinn Fein’s activities.
Former first minister Lord Trimble said: “Is it not the case that the team of leading republicans who conducted an inquiry into the killing of [Gerard] Davison — which led them to conclude that [Kevin] McGuigan was responsible for that, which led then to the killing of McGuigan — were members of one of those [IRA] departments with specific responsibilities, and it would have been part of their responsibilities to report their actions to the leadership of the republican movement?”
He added that the confirmation about large-scale smuggling and criminality suggested that “the primary purpose of those criminal activities is to generate income for the republican movement to finance its political focus and objectives” which allowed Sinn Fein to “have the highest income of any political party in the British Isles”.
And DUP peer Lord Hay — who until a year ago was the Assembly’s Speaker — said that he would go “much further” than Lord Trimble on that issue.
He told peers: “I have believed for some time that the criminality and the money made from criminality goes to political parties. We should say that.
“We have a political party on the island of Ireland that is almost the richest anywhere in Europe.
“It is the second richest party in Europe.
“That is something that the Government ought to look at and continue to look at: whether that criminality and those unearned gains are going to a particular party.”
Speaking to the BBC yesterday, Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly said: “That is the sole place where we get instructions from, the ard chomhairle, which gets its instructions from the membership.”
And Martin McGuinness said that Sinn Fein had “primacy” within republicanism.
The DUP’s Gregory Campbell said: “What we’re saying is that report now provides the basis for which everyone has to get those vestiges of paramilitary activity removed.
“They have now set the benchmark and everyone then has to say, ‘right, what do we do to get rid of that Army Council; what do we need to do to dismantle those structures?’”