Belfast Telegraph

UUP to withdraw from Northern Ireland Executive

Mike Nesbitt to recommend party establish opposition

By Jonathan Bell

The Ulster Unionist Party looks set to walk out of the Northern Ireland Executive and form an opposition in the wake of the IRA's involvement in the Kevin McGuigan murder.

Party leader Mike Nesbitt made the announcement on Wednesday saying he intends to put the recommendation to the UUP leadership on Saturday.

It is expected to endorse the decision.

Flanked by party members the Strangford MLA said he had the full backing of his elected representatives.

Mike Nesbitt said: "That decision is to withdraw from the Northern Ireland Executive, to form an opposition and offer people an alternative, as is the way in any proper democracy. 

"We are in a bad place but this can be fixed.

"But the IRA need to go away and stop terrorising their own communities.

"So do the UDA, and UVF and Red Hand Commando – and the rest.

"And I wouldn’t argue if they took down their paramilitary flags on the way out."

With the UUP holding one seat on the Executive - that of Roads Minister Danny Kennedy - the move should not automatically trigger a collapse of the institutions.

However, it has put the administration's future into further doubt.

Sinn Fein deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness accused the UUP of playing party politics.

Mike Nesbitt continued: "In 1998, the Ulster Unionist Party stretched itself very close to breaking point to secure the return of devolution, because it was the right thing to do.

"A founding principle of that agreement was the opportunity to build mutual trust between unionism, nationalism and republicanism.

"Seventeen years on, we are told the IRA still exists, and that it has a command structure, at a senior level.

"We are also told members of the IRA have committed a murder on the streets of our capital city, working with another criminal gang, Action Against Drugs.

"And in response, Sinn Fein trot out their single transferrable speech of denial.

"That speech is threadbare. It has put a hole in the fabric of the agreement.

"That hole needs mended."

He added: "The Ulster Unionist Party remains wedded to our vision of a Northern Ireland that is totally peaceful and where everyone prospers - unionists, nationalists and republicans equally.

"Where we offer each other mutual respect for our traditions.

"Where we deliver the much-heralded peace dividend, which would bring that prosperity to all our people, not least the vulnerable.

"Where devolved government delivers better government than direct rule.

"Those were the key outcomes we envisaged in 1998.

"Since 2007, the DUP and Sinn Fein have been leading our government. That’s over eight years. We need wait no longer for further proof of their inability to deliver those goals.

"In sadness more than anger I recognise they cannot deliver positive outcomes for our people.

"We hear what people are saying. They need and deserve and yearn for a party that is willing to stretch itself today – stretch beyond its own self-interests to what’s right for the people of Northern Ireland – all of them.

"The Ulster Unionist Party is ready to stretch itself again."

Mr Nesbitt went on: "Our Vision remains that of a Northern Ireland that is totally peaceful and where everyone prospers – republicans, nationalists and unionists equally."

Responding Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly said the place to resolve the issues facing Stormont was at the Executive table and described the UUP announcement as a "party political broadcast".

He again stressed that the IRA had gone away.

He said: "The real difficulties are the legacy issues, the Tory cuts and all the other issues facing the Executive.

"He [Mike Nesbitt] is trying to create a crisis and I hope he fails."

Alliance's Stephen Farry said the UUP's "hasty withdrawal" smacked of "political opportunism".

"Alliance has consistently said since the Kevin McGuigan murder that calm was needed from all quarters to prevent Northern Ireland moving deeper into crisis.

"However, the UUP appears to have used it as an opportunity to move into opposition in the run-up to an Assembly election.

"The party currently sits on the Camp Twaddell committee alongside representatives of loyalist paramilitaries, as well as taking part in the Unionist Forum and announcing a graduated response alongside those same representatives.

"They also cannot credibly argue they did not know the Provisional IRA did not cease to exist, showing today's decision is political opportunism rather than anything done out of principle."

He added: "It is clear the UUP does not have the best interests of everyone at heart, when they had no issue joining pan-unionist groupings which included representatives of loyalist paramilitary organisations."

"The effect of the UUP's actions today will only be to destabilise the process at a time when politicians should be doing all they can to steady things."

TUV leader Jim Allister said the UUP move was a welcome one. He said the announcement was "better late than never" and the focus was now on the DUP.

He added: "If Sinn Fein is permitted to continue in government while the IRA is connected to murder, then it makes a mockery out of Stormont, and leaves it without any credibility.”

The murder of Kevin McGuigan has thrown the powersharing institutions into jeopardy after police said the IRA was involved.

The PSNI said some IRA members were involved in the murder of father-of-nine two weeks ago but that it was not sanctioned at a senior level.

Unionists have threatened to exclude Sinn Fein from the Executive amid the revelations.

However, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said at the weekend that the IRA has "gone away".

In a statement Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said: "This is a matter for the Ulster Unionist Party who take their own decisions.

"The Government remains fully committed to the devolved political institutions and to the implementation of the Stormont House Agreement.

"Over the coming days, I shall be continuing my discussions with the parties about fallout from the murder of Kevin McGuigan."

Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan echoed the Secretary of State's comments saying he believed the best interests of the people of Northern Ireland were best served by an "inclusive powersharing Executive".

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