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DUP threat to resign ups ante but there's still wriggle room in Stormont drama

By Liam Clarke

Published 10/09/2015

Peter Robinson's declaration that his ministers will resign if Stormont is not suspended has dramatically upped the ante but it may not be quite the final straw.

Mr Robinson hasn't yet said he will resign as First Minister. If he does that means an election or the end of the institution. He has already put the Government off that by saying that if there is an election the DUP will still not enter government and will demand renegotiation which could take years.

If he delays then the Assembly can keep going a while longer, but not much.

Ordinary ministers are normally replaced within seven days. The UUP have left the Executive so if the DUP does not nominate replacements it will mean a power-sharing administration without unionists.

This hard line is born of internal pressure in the DUP and the conviction that Sinn Fein dare not walk in the wake of a murder. It would leave a stench of political incompetence and corruption that would make it very hard to find a place in government north or south.

The flaw is that if the DUP walks then Sinn Fein escapes blame for the collapse and looks good in the Republic.

Mr Robinson has created an envelope of pressure in which he hopes he can force the hand of either the other parties or the Government. The first move will be a motion to the Assembly's business committee, which may meet today, to adjourn the Assembly but still to allow meetings of the Executive in an emergency.

That failed last week because the UUP, Sinn Fein and the SDLP voted against it. This time the UUP will have pause for thought. They have insisted that it can't be business as usual at Stormont and resigned from the Executive themselves.

If adjournment doesn't happen then it is up to the Secretary of State to suspend or call Mr Robinson's bluff.

As things stand the Irish government opposes suspension and would say so publicly; that would help get Sinn Fein off the hook.

Until that Sinn Fein is on the back foot and can't afford to respond to arrests and sleights as they did in the past.

When Gerry Adams was held last year over the 1972 kidnap and murder of Jean McConville, Bobby Storey lost the run of himself. He compared Mr Adams' four days in Antrim holding centre to Nelson Mandela's 27 years in Robben Island.

Mr Storey himself may well be released unconditionally as happened with Mr Adams.

However, if he, or the other leading republicans, aren't let go, there can be no closing of ranks around them. That can't happen if Sinn Fein has any interest in the survival of Stormont or any support from other nationalists.

Earlier this year Mr Storey addressed a rally to unveil a 20ft mural of Mr Adams alongside Nelson Mandela.

It carried the slogan "defend the peace process, release Gerry Adams".

That was sinister, especially to unionists, and looked like a threat that peace was over if Mr Adams was not released.

Mr Storey did little to correct the impression of menace. "The reason we are here today is because of the surge of Sinn Fein across this island," he said.

"We have a message for the British Government, for the Irish government, for the cabal that is out there: we haven't gone away you know." Martin McGuinness blamed the "embittered rump" of the old Royal Ulster Constabulary within its replacement, the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

Earlier, in 2005, Alex Maskey criticised the police for carrying out house searches following the murder of Robert McCartney, allegedly by IRA members acting under the direction of Jock Davison, for whose murder Mr McGuigan's may have been a revenge attack.

Some Sinn Fein politicians, who were regarded as potential witnesses, refused to be interviewed by the police.

That all needs to change. So far Sinn Fein's reaction has been muted. Unlike in the case of Mr Adams, Mr McGuinness, was cautious. He expressed surprise, confirmed Mr Storey was "a valued member of Sinn Fein's core leadership" and praised him for his contribution to the peace process. He added: "We look forward with confidence to his early release."

If he, or the others, aren't released early or are charged, this needs to change. The emphasis needs to be on backing the police in their investigation and on catching the people behind these murders.

It is part and parcel of being in a democratic administration that you neither maintain hit squads nor turn a blind eye to them.

Belfast Telegraph

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