Belfast Telegraph

A divisive issue that could yet throw a spanner in the works of Stormont dialogue

By Brian Rowan

Is it a talks move that will make things better - or make things worse?

There is no easy way out of the maze at Stormont.

Even before the issue of the IRA became part of the political mess, there was more than enough for these talks to be getting on with - flags, parades and the past and the money problems relating to welfare and other cuts.

Now, a panel is to mark the homework of MI5 and the PSNI.

If it agrees with the Chief Constable's assessment on an IRA structure and membership involvement in the murder of Kevin McGuigan, then there is a continuing problem for politics.

If it disagrees, then the problem becomes a policing one.

The assessment Secretary of State Theresa Villiers has asked for is not just on the IRA, but in the widest frame. It will include the loyalists and the dissident republican organisations.

And there is a tight deadline for the assessment to be made by the police and the Security Service and for it to be checked and reviewed by this independent panel; that timescale is just a few short weeks.

In the thinking of Peter Robinson and his party, this is but a first step. The DUP leader wants something "permanent" in place to carry on the work of monitoring paramilitary activity and criminality.

On the specifics of the IRA leadership structure and the involvement of members in the McGuigan killing, there is a huge gap between what Sinn Fein is saying and what Chief Constable George Hamilton believes.

This panel will have to decide who has got it right and who has got it wrong. There is not much room in the middle for some kind of fudge.

The Adams and McGuinness line is that the IRA has gone, left the stage - is no longer part of the equation. This thinking was repeated by Bobby Storey - one of the most-senior IRA leaders of the conflict period and now Sinn Fein's northern chair.

He was arrested as part of the McGuigan murder investigation - arrested on day-two of the talks, a move that caused an earthquake within the political process.

Storey was later released unconditionally and, at a news conference, said there was no basis for his arrest and that not a shred of evidence or intelligence was put to him during questioning.

He has instructed his solicitor to take legal action against the Chief Constable.

The policing assessment of the McGuigan murder and an IRA structure has not changed. And this will be tested in this report asked for by the Secretary of State.

They believe they have got this right; that they can defend making public investigative lines, including IRA involvement in the McGuigan murder.

That they have information or intelligence that members of the IRA had carried out an earlier investigation into the killing of Jock Davison, once one of the most-senior IRA leaders in Belfast.

And they will explain what they understand the remaining IRA leadership structure to be and its purpose and role.

The MI5 assessment will also be knit into this report, but Ms Villiers has already made clear that her security advice is in line with what the Chief Constable said.

So, in a few weeks' time, this issue could still come back to haunt the Stormont talks.

Belfast Telegraph


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