Theresa Villiers’ statement that the Government is prepared to legislate for welfare reform over the head of Stormont is as welcome as it is long overdue.
For too long, republicans have been indulged on this, as on many other issues. Though the Government has at times talked tough, there has seemed to be a lack of resolve to bring the issue to a head.
Even Sinn Fein’s shameless public U-turn on the very deal they negotiated on welfare and other issues — the Stormont House Agreement — was met with language which to republican ears must have sounded like the usual NIO constructive ambiguity of the peace process.
Why would Sinn Fein — a party addicted to negotiating but less sure of itself when governing — implement welfare reforms if it believed there was any possibility of squeezing yet more pounds from British taxpayers?
The situation in Greece, where, as in Belfast, an ‘anti-austerity’ party dug in its heels and refused to accept financial reality, showed that sometimes it is only the starkest of choices which forces the abandonment of such bombastic positions.
The Secretary of State’s announcement has been met with predictable acclaim from the DUP and annoyance from Sinn Fein. But unionists need to be very clear that the Government stepping in to legislate for welfare reform is not an acceptable trade-off for an IRA murder on the streets of Belfast.
There must a specific and explicit political sanction for the murder of Kevin McGuigan.
Peter Robinson yesterday was careful to differentiate between the Stormont House Agreement issues — such as welfare — and the re-emergence of the IRA.
In the current talks, unionists must be irrevocably resolute on that point. If, as the Chief Constable says, the IRA now exists to support Sinn Fein, then only the knowledge that IRA murder will politically damage Sinn Fein will make republican godfathers abandon their murderous methods.