Sinn Fein stance on IRA 'will kill or cure' powersharing, says Mike Nesbitt


Sinn Fein's attitude to whether the IRA is still in business will "kill or cure" power sharing in Northern Ireland, Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt has said.

Mr Nesbitt said progress could not be made in efforts to resolve the crisis that has engulfed Stormont following a murder linked to the IRA unless the republican party admitted the paramilitary organisation was still operating.

He made the assessment as he emerged from a bi-lateral meeting with Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers at Stormont House.

Ms Villiers has convened emergency talks with the parties in a bid to rescue the faltering administration.

Mr Nesbitt claimed Ms Villiers had agreed with his party's view that Sinn Fein denials about the existence of the IRA was "doing huge damage to the political process".

He added: "If there are to be talks this I believe will kill or cure the devolved government."

The negotiation process is expected to last four to six weeks and today's session will involve bi-lateral meetings between Ms Villiers and the individual parties. Irish government officials will also hold one-to-one meetings with the parties.

Mr Nesbitt urged against round table talks until Sinn Fein's stance had been established.

"We have cautioned against holding a round table discussion at this time until the Secretary of State gets a feel of where others, particularly Sinn Fein, are with regard to the way forward," he said.

The latest crisis to beset the faltering administration was sparked by the murder of Kevin McGuigan.

The Democratic Unionists have pulled all but one of their five ministers out of the Executive and DUP First Minister Peter Robinson has stepped down.

The Ulster Unionists have resigned their one ministerial post in what was a 13-ministry, five party coalition prior to the furore over the McGuigan shooting.

Police have said current members of the IRA were involved in last month's shooting of Mr McGuigan in a suspected revenge attack for the murder of former IRA commander Gerard "Jock" Davison in Belfast three months earlier.

The disclosures about the IRA have heaped pressure on Sinn Fein to explain why the police assess that the supposedly defunct paramilitary organisation is still in existence.

Sinn Fein has insisted the IRA has gone away and has accused the two unionist parties of contriving a crisis for electoral gain.

The controversy escalated last week when three senior republicans, including Sinn Fein's northern chairman Bobby Storey, were arrested by detectives investigating the murder. All three were later released without charge.

But during the period they were being questioned, Mr Robinson stepped down and three of his DUP ministers quit the Executive.

Commenting publicly on his arrest for the first time on Sunday, Mr Storey accused unionists of trying to cynically exploit his "wrongful detention" to bring down power sharing.

He repeatedly insisted the IRA was no more - at one stage evoking the metaphor of a butterfly.

Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) chief constable George Hamilton has said there is no evidence IRA leadership sanctioned the McGuigan murder. However, the region's senior officer said structures of the organisation still exist, albeit for political, not terror, purposes.

Mr Storey said he agreed with the assessment there was no IRA military footing, but he added: "Where I differ from the chief constable, is there is no role for the IRA, the IRA has finished, the IRA has gone. I think the chief constable and other perspectives out there see this in terms of the IRA being the caterpillar that's still there, where I think it's moved on, it's become a butterfly, it's flew away, it's gone, it's disappeared and they need to evolve to that as well."