Irrespective of their motives for doing so, the Ulster Unionist Party are perfectly right to withdraw from the Northern Irish Executive. When the Provisional Republican Movement signed up to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, it agreed that it would no longer use violence as a means of protecting or furthering its interests. The paramilitary operation which killed Kevin McGuigan violated that, because current members of the Provisional IRA took part in it.
Many are criticizing the UUP for acting so decisively on this now because the continued activity of the PIRA has been the worst kept secret in northern politics. But what they are ignoring is that the murder of Kevin McGuigan is the first time in recent memory the PSNI have come out and acknowledged (in no uncertain terms) that current members of the PIRA were indeed involved in actions of a military nature.
Up until this point, the PSNI have been coy about explicitly implicating the PIRA in paramilitary activity – as this 2008, Pete Baker entry on the murder of Paul Quinn illustrates.
The Provisional IRA “Third Wall” as it were, where everyone knew but couldn’t state for certain, is no longer in place.
The PSNI have confirmed that the armed wing of the PRM have not abandoned violence as a means of reaffirming local political power; and so as architects of the Good Friday Agreement, the UUP have opted to leave a political framework which derives from the principle that violence cannot be accepted in politics.
It is very possible that the UUP have also determined this course of action to be in their political interests (which Ian James Parsley believes); but it is nonetheless a logical and defensible one as far as principle.
In fact, for the UUP to remain part of the Executive would make a mockery of the GFA, as the spirit of the document was that the Provisional Republican Movement commit to purely democratic means of pursuing its agenda.
Sinn Féin of course – while willing to piggyback off the political fervour generated by the PIRA in the 70s and 80s – is trying to retire the concept of the PRM.
Taking yet another leaf out of the strategy book of Tomás Mac Giolla and Sean Garland – read “The Lost Revolution” by Brian Hanley and Scott Millar and you will be shocked by the parallels – Sinn Féin is eager to assert the notion that it is a Party and nothing more.
Are people really so naïve as to believe this?
To begin to understand the ridiculousness of the idea that the PIRA have evolved into a self-determining organization separate to Sinn Féin, simply consider this article by republican paramilitary expert, Suzanne Breen. She reports that Bernard Fox, a participant in the 1981 Hunger Strikes, resigned from the PIRA Army Council in 2006 because Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness exerted undemocratic over it (despite the fact they no longer sat on it).
What that says is that while the PIRA has a different “face” to Sinn Féin in terms of its senor figures, the overall control of the PRM is in SF hands because the vast majority of the Council are Adams-McGuinness aligned. If you glance at the last Council published by the Sunday Times in 2005, any member of the PIRA hierarchy not totally invested in the SF vision – see also here – has since left the Movement.
Consider also this fantastic quote from John Kelly that Ed Moloney included in a recent article on the subject:
“Not a single Sparrow can fall from a tree without him (Gerry Adams) knowing.”
Doesn’t that cut right through the very feeble SF narrative that the SF leadership can only be credibly scrutinized for the party element of the PRM?
The UUP are therefore justified in their analysis that to currently do business with Sinn Féin at the highest level of NI politics is a perversion of the institution’s basic premise.
Holding the PRM to account in the Executive, for something that was a pre-condition to the Executive, would in many ways be a farce – particularly as SF are rebuffing this matter as yet another attempt by the Unionists and West Brits to damage its All-Ireland electoral growth.
This is politics and there is no question that Mike Nesbitt has made a considered calculation (which only time can tell the electoral consequences of) as opposed to simply acting on principled impulse. But it is important to note that while other, apparent advocates of the Good Friday Agreement are lukewarm about its relevance in this context; by virtue of its decision to leave the Executive, the UUP are choosing to uphold its integrity.