Northern Ireland’s First Minister Peter Robinson and his Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has threatened to quit the Northern Ireland Assembly amid controversy that the party’s republican coalition partner Sinn Fein was complicit in the murder of an ex-member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA).
Former Provisional IRA member Kevin McGuigan Sr was shot dead in August in what was highly speculated to be a “punishment attack” after he was named as a suspect in the murder of his ex-colleague Gerard Jock Davison in May.
McGuigan’s murder was later linked to other former Provisional IRA members including Bobby Storey, the head of the Sinn Fein party’s northern branch. Storey was previously accused of being the head of the IRA’s intelligence in 2005.
Upon Storey’s arrest on Wednesday along with two other well-known republicans Eddie Copeland and alleged IRA army council member Brian Gillen, the DUP called on the Northern Ireland Assembly to be adjourned or suspended, threatening to boycott the assembly otherwise.
"If we can't stop the assembly by way of adjournment or suspension then we will take the step that will cause it to be brought to an abrupt halt," First Minister Robinson said on Wednesday, adding that if the Northern Ireland Secretary does not recall the Northern Ireland Assembly's business committee on Thursday, ministers from the DUP would resign.
The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), has also said it will not participate in the assembly till the status of the Provisional IRA has been clarified.
UUP leader Mike Nesbitt called on Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams to admit the existence of the IRA, saying "Nothing is going to work unless Gerry Adams is honest about the IRA in 2015.”
Adams, meanwhile, insisted the IRA no longer exists. "There is only one republican organisation that is Sinn Féin, there is only one leadership ard chomhairle [party executive]," he said. "The IRA has gone."
Sinn Fein member and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, on the other hand, has warned adjourning or suspending the assembly would be a "a grave mistake."
McGuinness said he had received assurances from UK Prime Minister David Cameron that the assembly would not be closed and had also spoken to Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, who is likewise against the suspension.
Sinn Fein has also denied the existence of the Provisional IRA, saying the group had halted its activities in 2005. McGuinness said he had been “surprised” by Storey’s arrest and was looking forward to his early release.
"We're not going to jump to the tune of the inter-party rivalry that's being played out between both unionist parties at this time," McGuinness said.
With 29 seats in the 108-seat assembly, Sinn Fein is the second largest party behind the DUP, which has 38 seats. The other coalition partners include the pro-Irish Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), which has 14 seats, and the moderate unionist Alliance Party of Northern Ireland (APNI), which has eight seats.
Should the DUP withdraw from the assembly, the remaining parties would not have enough seats between themselves to secure a majority.
The IRA, which was established in 1969 to fight for the cause of Irish republicanism, is listed as an unlawful terrorist organisation in both the UK and the Republic of Ireland. The group has carried out a number of bombings and assassinations since its founding, and is also known for its involvement in smuggling and robberies.
Although the group says it highly condemns sectarianism and sectarian attacks, its members having been involved in the killing of many Protestants and Catholics during the period of 1975-1976.
Tension inside the group led to splintering and when the Provisional IRA declared ceasefire with the UK government in 1997, the Real IRA came into being.
The Real IRA still believes that Northern Ireland should be united with the Republic of Ireland and continues to undertake violent attacks, generally targeting soldiers and police officers.