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Ex-prisoners tied to shooting could be sent back to jail

By Noel McAdam

Published 25/08/2015

Mike Nesbitt leads a UUP delegation to Stormont House to meet the Secretary of State Theresa Villiers yesterday
Mike Nesbitt leads a UUP delegation to Stormont House to meet the Secretary of State Theresa Villiers yesterday

The Government could come under pressure to send former IRA prisoners involved in the murder of Kevin McGuigan back to jail, it has emerged.

Unionist leaders have also insisted Sinn Fein will have to demonstrate its claim that the group no longer exists.

As the political crisis deepens over the PSNI assessment that PIRA members were involved in the McGuigan killing, the DUP and UUP are to ask whether London intends to intervene.

Both parties are due to meet Secretary of State Theresa Villiers, who may be asked to revoke the licences of any former IRA prisoners involved in the attack and return them to jail.

Mrs Villiers said she would not shy away from taking action if it was shown Sinn Fein had moved away from the principle of consent and support for the law.

She added that Chief Constable George Hamilton's assessment that the infrastructure of PIRA still exists came as no surprise to her. "My understanding is very much in line with that of the Chief Constable, that a number of the organisational structures of the Provisional IRA still exist but that there is no evidence it's involved in terrorism or paramilitary activity," she said.

Mrs Villiers added she was satisfied that all Executive parties supported the principles of democracy and consent, but she "wouldn't shy away from dealing with the consequences and taking action" if that was found to have changed.

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said: "We want to know the extent and nature of any so-called command structure and who authorised this attack.

"If it is established that former PIRA prisoners were involved, then the Secretary of State must ensure their licences are revoked and they are returned to jail.

"We are facing a very serious situation which is distinguished from any previous crisis in that the PSNI are very clear in their assessment that PIRA members have been involved in murder.

"We entered government on the basis that everyone in the Executive supported the police, the courts and the rule of law. There can be no fudging of this issue."

The political temperature rose after DUP MP Ian Paisley said Sinn Fein should be excluded from the Stormont Executive, but Mr Donaldson said his party had a "range of options".

He also made clear it was up to mainstream republican leaders to deal with the PSNI assertion that the Provos retain an effective infrastructure.

The Lagan Valley MP said that Chief Constable George Hamilton had contradicted Sinn Fein claims that the IRA had "left the stage."

And he claimed that, 17 years on from the Good Friday Agreement, Sinn Fein knew more about the murder than it was admitting on in public.

"I do not accept that in 2015 there is an on-going need for an IRA structure or for people to be members of that organisation," Mr Donaldson said. "That needs to be dealt with by the republican leadership."

He also told the BBC's Stephen Nolan Show his party had put a number of questions to Mr Hamilton over whether the killing of Mr McGuigan was authorised by senior republicans.

"The PSNI have not yet come to a definitive conclusion on that point," Mr Donaldson said. "Some of those questions are critical. We expect to hear back from him in the next few days."

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt, meanwhile, accused Gerry Adams of ignoring reality and trying to deflect attention in insisting the IRA had gone away.

"Whether it was the murders of Paul Quinn or Robert McCartney, the case of the Colombia Three 'birdwatchers', the Northern Bank robbery or last week`s murder, Gerry Adams' claims lack any credibility," the UU chief said.

"Even his own current and former supporters recognise that. It's up to republicans to convince people that they are committed to exclusively peaceful means."

His attack came after the Sinn Fein President said the recent killings of Mr McGuigan and Jock Davison had been "opportunistically and cynically seized upon" by rival parties.

"What we continue to hear from Gerry Adams is his single transferable speech of denial," Mr Nesbitt said. "And frankly it won't wash anymore. He has a long history of being consistently wrong when it comes to prevaricating on whether the IRA were up to their necks in crime or not - be it murder, robbery or money-laundering."

SDLP deputy leader Dolores Kelly also attacked Sinn Fein and said Mr Adams' insistence that the Provisional IRA had no part in the killing was "unbelievable".

"Sinn Fein have to make clear their commitment to entirely peaceful and democratic means," she said.

But the Upper Bann MLA also added: "There are more questions to be answered by the police, the security agencies and the two governments in terms of the status of the Provisional IRA."

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