Belfast Telegraph

UUP re-entry to Executive not 'any more attractive' after police briefing on IRA

A police assessment on IRA structures does not make an Ulster Unionist re-entry to the Stormont Executive "any more attractive", party leader Mike Nesbitt has said.

Mr Nesbitt met with Police Service of Northern Ireland Chief Constable George Hamilton to receive a briefing on paramilitary activity in the region.

The UUP walked out of the powersharing administration last autumn amid a crisis sparked by a murder linked to the Provisional IRA. A subsequent independent examination ordered by the Government said all the main Troubles paramilitary organisations retained structures, though their leaders were committed to the peace process.

Following last week's Assembly election, the UUP and other smaller Stormont parties are mulling whether to join a Democratic Unionist/Sinn Fein led administration or form an opposition.

Mr Nesbitt had highlighted an updated assessment from Mr Hamilton as crucial to the UUP's deliberations. He has said other factors would also influence the decision, such as the need for a "progressive" programme for government and a commitment from parties to work collaboratively across departments.

The UUP leader said the police briefing had become even more central in the wake of a number of recent shootings in Northern Ireland, among them a murder in west Belfast on Monday night.

After the meeting at PSNI headquarters in Belfast, the UUP leader said: "The Chief Constable confirmed no change from the assessment given to the Secretary of State last October - PIRA still exists.

"This is not surprising, but disappointing, given PIRA have drawn the roadmap that others are following. George Hamilton would not be drawn on this week's shootings, but these are serious criminal acts. I encourage those who have knowledge of the perpetrators to throw the guns in the streets and the perpetrators behind bars.

"The Chief Constable's assessment does not make re-entry to the Executive any more attractive, but we have two other tests regarding the Programme for Government to which we expect to have answers in a few short days."

Mr Hamilton said: "Over the course of the last seven months, there have been a number of very serious crimes committed in our community. Significant PSNI resources have been allocated to progress the investigations into these incidents.

"This investigative activity, or wider intelligence to date, has not indicated any change to the position reflected in the October 2015 Paramilitary Assessment."

Earlier, the outline of a proposed programme for government for the next Stormont Executive was circulated among the smaller parties.

The DUP and Sinn Fein, the region's two largest parties, had already carried out provisional work on the coalition's new five year plan ahead of last week's election - a poll which consolidated their position as the two main players.

The document was issued to the SDLP, UUP and Alliance Party - all junior executive partners in the last mandate - at the opening meeting of negotiations to form a government at Stormont.

As a period of potential horse trading kicked off, Prime Minister David Cameron called both DUP leader Arlene Foster and Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness to congratulate them on their success in the Assembly election.

While the UUP and SDLP both had relatively disappointing showings in the election, they retain sufficient strength to take one ministerial position each in the next DUP/Sinn Fein led coalition.

The cross-community Alliance Party does not have the numbers to be there by right, but it is widely anticipated it will be invited to take on the politically sensitive justice portfolio, as it has done in past mandates.

With recent legislation paving the way for parties eligible for government to instead enter official opposition, the smaller parties now face a significant political choice.

SDLP leader Colm Eastwood indicated significant changes would be needed before the SDLP signed up to the programme for government.

"We are a long, long way off," he said.

"We need to work very hard and intensively over the next weeks to make sure we have a substantial programme for government that we can all sign up to - we will only sign up to one that actually meets the needs of the people who have been left behind."

The parties are due to reconvene on Thursday for further discussions. They have a two-week deadline to form the executive.

The new Assembly will meet in plenary session for first time on Thursday, when a vote will be taken to formally confirm Mrs Foster as First Minister and Mr McGuinness as Deputy First Minister.


From Belfast Telegraph