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Imperfect peace in Northern Ireland must be repaired

By Brian Rowan

Published 01/09/2015

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt
UUP leader Mike Nesbitt

At midnight last night, the IRA ceasefire - first announced in 1994 - reached its 21st year. But, in 2015, the political mood is not one of celebration. Instead, the talk, once more, is of crisis, perhaps even collapse.

Writing in this newspaper yesterday, First Minister Peter Robinson said that in the coming period "it will not be business as usual at Stormont".

Already, Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt has taken his party out of the Executive (the formality of resignation will happen today).

Twenty-one years after that ceasefire announcement of August 31 1994, the IRA is again part of the policing and political discussion.

Chief Constable George Hamilton's assessment that current members of the organisation were involved in the recent murder of Kevin McGuigan is why there is once more talk of crisis.

The McGuigan shooting was allegedly a reprisal for the murder of Gerard "Jock" Davison, once one of the most senior IRA leaders in Belfast. Hamilton sets those killings in the context of republican feuding, not in the frame of a threat to the peace process.

But the latest police assessment has brought a skeleton, redundant IRA structure back into play and back into the policing and political discussion.

There was never an announcement on IRA disbandment and, seven years ago, the Independent Monitoring Commission told us not to expect one.

Its assessment was that the IRA would "wither" and fall into disuse. And for seven years, that was the story - no story.

Now, things have changed. The police assessment of the McGuigan murder means both an IRA structure and activity. It has triggered a political earthquake.

With all the focus now on what the DUP will do, Sinn Fein will sit tight. It may have walked away over the welfare and budget crisis, but much of that has been forgotten in the news and headlines of recent days. However, it is all still there - just waiting to be addressed.

Much has changed in the past 21 years, but there is no such thing as a perfect transition from conflict into peace. How to fix what is broken is the next political challenge.

Brian Rowan is a writer and commentator on security issues

Belfast Telegraph

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