Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 December 2014

Brian Rowan: Political storm blowing through Stormont

It's not over until it's over - but Margaret Ritchie has already taken it this far, and clearly further than some had expected.





This day last week a source close to the Executive sounded very confident.



"I told you it will be sorted," was his prediction. "There will be no further problems from it."



That source was not expecting yesterday's developments and Margaret Ritchie's statement in the Assembly.



There was even the hint that the Secretary of State Shaun Woodward could intervene.



And that "chimed" with what someone else was hearing elsewhere.



But the line from a source close to the Minister never changed.



Last weekend, there was nothing to suggest any backing off.



"I think that Margaret wants to move very quickly, and, if she can, before the end of (Assembly) business on Tuesday."



That line had firmed up by Monday. The Minister would "move and move quickly" - "within 24 hours".



It was a now a case of going through procedure - informing the Speaker's Office, having the statement scheduled and going to the Assembly to make it.



Three possible times had been identified for Tuesday.



And, after the words, we now have the political storm blowing through that building on the hill at Stormont.



There is still this thinking and suggestion that "Woodward will come in" - but to say and do what?



The loyalists will be surprised by yesterday's developments.



"My gut instinct is I don't think she can legally pull this (the funding for the conflict transformation initiative)," one source told me.



But he also said: "I know if she had her way she wouldn't back off."



She didn't.



In the background to this there was intense activity throughout that period of the 60-day deadline the Minister set for UDA decommissioning - activity designed to buy more time.



And in that developing situation the paramilitary brigadier Jackie McDonald dropped the line that the UDA was planning a significant statement on Remembrance Sunday - November 11.



It could, however, be "put on hold" if the funding for the CTI was withdrawn.



Margaret Ritchie was told something about the statement, but I am not sure how much.



A loyalist source quoted in this newspaper yesterday said: "I don't think she would know the content. If you were the UDA, would you tell her?"



Those closing words described the standoff that had developed.



General de Chastelain arrived in Northern Ireland for talks with representatives of the loyalist organisation - but there was never the prospect of the UDA putting weapons beyond use in the time it was given.



It has had as much time - indeed more time - than the IRA. The original ceasefires date back to 1994, the IRA completed the decommissioning process in 2005, but the UDA has yet to make a start.



After yesterday's statement by Margaret Ritchie, that intense background activity will continue.



It's not over until it's over.

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