Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 28 May 2016

Nesbitt right to quit Executive, says ex-First Minister Trimble

By Liam Clarke

Published 01/09/2015

Lord Trimble
Lord Trimble
UUP leader Mike Nesbitt

Lord Trimble - the last UUP chief to lead a power-sharing administration as First Minister - has backed Mike Nesbitt's decision to quit the Executive.

It comes as First Minister Peter Robinson prepares to meet the Prime Minister today to discuss Stormont's deepening political crisis.

Mr Robinson and his DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds are expected at Downing Street for crunch talks with David Cameron.

It is understood the DUP wants any former paramilitaries out of prison on licence under the terms of the Agreement and suspected of an offence to be returned to jail.

And the UUP has suggested that resurrecting the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) ceasefire watchdog could be one element that helps pave the way for a return to the Executive if its problems can be fixed in negotiations.

Mr Robinson has branded the UUP decision irrational, illogical and based on "political expediency" rather than principle.

But Lord Trimble said: "Mike had to do something. This goes back to the bad old Mo Mowlam days of turning a blind eye to 'internal housekeeping' as she called it, which amounted to giving people a licence to kill."

His reference is to former Northern Ireland Secretary Ms Mowlam, who described the IRA murder of Charles Bennett in 1999 as "internal housekeeping" to avoid dealing with it as a breach of the terror group's ceasefire, which could have collapsed the Agreement.

Two years later, Lord Trimble resigned as First Minister as he believed there had not been enough progress on IRA decommissioning.

Lord Trimble said: "I did this when I was the leader of the biggest party. I was simply not prepared to put up with a situation of murder and violence.

"Something has to be done and I'm not sure Robinson can do it. He is talking about somehow excluding Sinn Fein but that can't be done immediately."

Mr Trimble's statement is typical of the widespread backing among UUP supporters for Mr Nesbitt's move to withdraw from the Executive over the murder of Kevin McGuigan, which the Chief Constable said was carried out by IRA members working with a criminal gang.

Mr McGuigan was a former member of the IRA and the PSNI believes he was murdered because he was suspected of killing former IRA commander Jock Davidson, with whom he had clashed.

The two main unionist parties are currently engaged in a bitter war of words as each seeks to convince the public it has made the right choice.

Writing in yesterday's Belfast Telegraph, Mr Robinson lambasted Mr Nesbitt for pulling out of the Executive. He said: "This is not the time to flee the battlefield, it is the time to confront violent republicanism, to stand and fight for democratic principles and to do what is right for the law-abiding citizens of Northern Ireland."

Yesterday Mr Nesbitt hit back, asking if Mr Robinson thought "the people of Northern Ireland have such short memories that they do not recall that when the DUP flip-flopped on their 'never, never, never, never' stance regarding sharing power with Sinn Fein, they promised 'a battle a day'?

"The problem for Peter Robinson is that there is no battlefield under his command."

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Nesbitt denied Mr Robinson's charge of opportunism and gambling with the institutions.

"I don't want the Executive to collapse, I want it to work," he said.

"I had to make a judgment call about whether you hang in with something that has clearly become dysfunctional, as it has been since 2007, with Sinn Fein and the DUP in charge.

"You don't need more evidence than an £80m Social Investment Fund to tackle poverty which has spent less than £2m due to lack of agreement."

He said the answer was to bring back the IMC which produced 26 reports on the paramilitary ceasefires between 2004 and 2011. He also wants guarantees that all parties in coalition will be given an equal say. Mr Nesbitt said: "In a coalition all parties must be given their place and the DUP and Sinn Fein have not done that.

"Look at the Stormont House Agreement which they signed up to last winter. There is an implementation group of all Executive parties that meets every Monday but everybody now knows that is not where the action is.

"The action goes on in secret in places like the boardroom of Belfast City Airport and it is exclusively between the DUP and Sinn Fein who can't deliver."

In his statement, Mr Nesbitt said that it had taken Mr Robinson 11 days to comment on Mr McGuigan's death but the DUP has pointed out this is not true. In fact, the First Minister had condemned it in interviews with the Belfast Telegraph and the local TV stations.

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