Derry representatives from both nationalist parties have dismissed the withdrawal of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) from Stormont at the weekend as nothing more than a ‘political stunt.’
The UUP formalised their intention to quit Stormont at a meeting of their party executive on Saturday past, having stated their intent to do so last Wednesday-August 26.
The decision by the unionist party to quit comes after a recent declaration by the Chief Constable of the PSNI, George Hamilton, that members of the Provisional IRA were involved in the murder of a former IRA member, Kevin McGuigan, on August 13. The dead man had been questioned in relation to the murder of former senior IRA leader Gerard ‘Jock’ Davison in Belfast in May this year.
A subsequent political furore over the chain of events has cast serious doubts over the future of devolved political institutions in the North. Prime Minister David Cameron Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers are due to meet with the DUP today. And, yesterday afternoon representatives from the main political parties met with First Minister Peter Robinson in Belfast to discuss the crisis.
However, Foyle MLAs Mark H Durkan of the SDLP and Sinn Fein’s Raymond McCartney have said the move by the UUP is an attempt to garner favour with the wider unionist electorate under the guise of a ‘principled political stance.’
Speaking to the ‘Journal’, Mark H Durkan said: “The decision to withdraw by the UUP is the wrong one. This is more about them and the DUP than is about them and Sinn Fein.
“The UUP are seizing on events surrounding the murder of Kevin McGuigan in order to try achieve an electoral advantage. They have taken an electoral gamble, but they might have placed their bet too early. They are attempting to legitimise their exit from Stormont over the prolonged existence of the IRA. “
“On the other hand, they may have taken this gamble too late. If they wanted to leave they should have done so earlier in order to avoid this looking like a political stunt.
“It is understandable that the UUP have felt a lot of frustration in affecting a lot of issues, but to attempt to put pressure on the DUP is irresponsible. In a way, it could even be said that they will hand power back to paramilitaries if this leads to the collapse of Stormont.”
Meanwhile, Sinn Fein’s Raymond McCartney told the ‘Journal’: “The decision by the Ulster Unionist Executive to endorse Mike Nesbitt’s decision to resign from the Stormont Executive is not based on a principled stand. This decision is based solely in attempting to gain an electoral advantage over the DUP and nothing else.
They have taken an electoral gamble, but they might have placed their bet too early-Mark H Durkan
“Sinn Fein will not let Mike Nesbitt, nor anyone else for that matter, stop us from representing our electorate and we will continue to stand strong for all those people affected by Tory cuts.
“The days of exclusion and discrimination are over. Sinn Fein has an electoral mandate to deliver change and that will not be wished away by our political opponents who are cynically using the appalling murders of Jock Davison and Kevin McGuigan by armed criminals to create a political crisis fuelled by electoral considerations.
“We have consistently faced down all those who have attempted to drag this society back to the past and we will continue to do so, no matter where that threat emanates from.”
Yesterday DUP leader, Peter Robinson also accused the UUP of ‘political expediency’.
Whilst agreeing with the PSNI Chief Constable’s analysis that IRA members were involved in the McGuigan murder and that some IRA structures remain in place he said: “This is not the time to flee the battlefield, it is time to confront violent republicanism, to stand and fight for democratic principles and to do what is right for law-abiding citizens of Northern Ireland.”
In response UUP leader Mike Nesbitt contended he found it “extraordinary that it has taken until the last day of August for Peter Robinson to comment on the latest IRA murder.”
Mr Nesbitt also rejected claims that his party’s withdrawal from Stormont was expedient and was based on principle.
“In the coming days, we will hold fast to the fundamental principle that those who are in government in Northern Ireland cannot also be involved with those who engage in paramilitary activity,” he said.