Parties must go extra mile to save precious devolution
Sinn Fein's denial of the very existence of the IRA, even in benign form, is untenable in light of all the information that has emerged in recent days. The party is not believed by the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland, even in its own heartlands.
At the same time the unequivocal denouncement of the recent murders as wrong by both Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams must be acknowledged, as must the assertion by the Chief Constable that he believes the party is wedded to progressing its ideals by totally democratic means. Furthermore, it is welcome that Mr Adams says the IRA has no role in the political or civic life of Ireland as a whole.
However, that position has been undermined by the PSNI's claim that current members of the IRA were involved in the murder of Kevin McGuigan. Republicans of whatever status cannot have a pick 'n' mix attitude to peace, broadly supporting it but retaining a capacity for violence, including murder.
All sorts of semantics can be employed when determining the status of the IRA but two things are clear. Firstly, the suggestion that it retains a capacity for violence is of concern, primarily to the Protestant community and secondly to everyone who thought that republican violence, apart from the actions of the nihilistic dissents, had been shelved for good in preference for building a truly democratic peace process.
Yet it must be accepted that there is no persuasive evidence that Sinn Fein had either a role in or knowledge of the murder of Mr McGuigan. Sinn Fein has to accept in return that recent events have placed a tremendous strain on the institutions at Stormont. The UUP's decision - expected to be rubber- stamped by its ruling body tomorrow - to walk out of the Executive may have an element of electioneering as opponents suggest, but it also puts an onus on Sinn Fein to reassure unionist concerns.
It is difficult to see how the parties will come to an early consensus on what is believable or not, but their even bigger challenge is to reassure the public that Northern Ireland is a place to live and work in and to bring up future generations.
They will not achieve that by grandstanding or walking away from their responsibilities. Toppling or even threatening to topple the institutions will damage the economy and undermine what progress has been made through devolution.
The DUP and Sinn Fein, as the major parties of government, have a responsibility to assuage the fears of each other's community through straight talking. Sinn Fein must show unbending support for the rule of law and order and that there are no back doors into government for the terrorists of the past.
The DUP has not acted precipitately, but it needs to quieten its threatening rhetoric and show that it is ready to face up to the challenge on building on the progress that has been made. It must show that it does not regard the devolved institutions as dispensable when the going gets tough.
We need straight talking from the parties and let the police pursue the murderers.