The Deputy First Minister should have no role in appointing someone to head up the body which will probe historic Troubles murders, according to the Justice Minister.
David Ford told MLAs that it should be the Policing Board which makes such appointments, not the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM).
He had been responding to a question from UUP leader Mike Nesbitt, which followed the publication of the monitoring report which stated that Sinn Fein is still overseen by the IRA Army Council.
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, a former IRA commander, recently refused to apologise for any of his previous paramilitary activities, including trying to obtain acid with which to douse members of the security forces.
Sinn Fein has repeatedly insisted, in the wake of the furore surrounding the killing of ex-republican prisoner Kevin McGuigan, that the IRA has “left the stage”.
Speaking on the floor of the Assembly on Tuesday, Mr Nesbitt (MLA for Strangford) said: “Given the publication earlier today of the assessment of parliamentary groups in Northern Ireland that was commissioned by the Secretary of State and the suggestion – the clear suggestion – that the Deputy First Minister takes his instructions from the army council of the Provisional IRA, will the minister agree with me that there can be no role for OFMDFM in the appointment of the director of the Historical Investigations Unit (HIU)?”
Mr Ford (MLA for South Antrim, and leader of the Alliance Party) responded: “I am happy to agree with the point that Mr Nesbitt made – although I made that point before we got today’s report – on the clear basis that I am keen to see the HIU operating as a policing body in line with the structures that we have for policing in Northern Ireland.
“On that basis, the appropriate body to make the appointment would be the Policing Board; not the Department of Justice, not OFMDFM, and not OFMDFM in consultation with the Department of Justice.”
He concluded that he was “quite happy to endorse Mr Nesbitt’s points”.
However the Policing Board – which Mr Ford said should be responsible for appointing the head of the HIU – contains a number of members of Sinn Fein.
Asked if Sinn Fein should be removed from the Policing Board in the wake of the report, board member and SDLP deputy leader Dolores Kelly said: “No. Not at this stage.
“Because I think what we should be looking at is in the context of the ongoing talks in relation to dealing with the past and putting paramilitaries really out of use... I don’t think there should be any knee-jerk reaction.”